Budget-busting isn't the bipartisanship Americans seek

Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on much, but both parties appear to have reached a consensus on one major issue: busting spending caps is their solution to disagreements over spending. These caps are current law, and we should follow them.

Last week, my Democratic colleagues failed to even try to pass a budget, but they did manage to pass a rule allowing for $1.375 trillion in discretionary spending in the future. Republicans dutifully voted against it, but we only deserve a modicum of credit. Why is that? Members of my party would be happy to agree with Democrats’ demands to spend outside our means, so long as they get all the money they want for defense. And that is the perennial story of the Washington budgeting process. 

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The truth is Washington is all about power rather than solving the problem. It’s politically easier for Republicans to press for defense spending and Democrats to push for non-defense spending, while both hide behind a promise to support a Balanced Budget Amendment and a need to reform mandatory spending like Medicare and Social Security without ever intending to do either.

Years of out-of-control spending and poor decision making is catching up with us. Only a few months ago, our nation reached the dubious distinction of being $22 trillion dollars in debt. With every hour that passes, we pile up another $100 million of debt. To pay off that $22 trillion in one lump sum, every taxpayer would have to cough up more than $181,000. 

Interest payments on the debt alone, even with historically low rates, accounted for $325 billion of annual spending in 2018 and are expected to account for over $900 billion by 2028. Within only five years, the federal government will spend more on interest on the debt than defense.

Instead of wringing our hands and finding political convenient reasons to spend outside our means, Congress should stick to the caps. Doing so will force us – Republicans and Democrats – to sit at the table and negotiate—a lost art in Washington which remains the key ingredient to a healthy, functioning democracy.

Consider this, even if we simply agree to hold to the caps on a bipartisan basis, we spend over $1 trillion more than we take in every year through 2024, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget. Let that sink in. That is why holding to the spending caps is a baseline, not aspirational!

The truth is, if we want a strong military, if we want the National Institutes of Health, or any other agency or program we currently fund, Congress must have the conversation that economics students have their freshman year of college—choosing between “Guns and Butter.”

Reasonable people can disagree on what we should do.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE’s team is correct to suggest that allowing an across-the-board sequester to kick-in is more responsible than what Congress appears on track to do. The fact remains that if we don’t deal with our inability to spend within our means and continue mounting up debt, there won’t be money for anything at all. 

Defaulting to increasing caps is not the kind of problem-solving that American families, businesses, and states like Texas force themselves to do that actually causes people of differing opinions to find a way to reach consensus.

America has always been the “land of opportunity” where one’s circumstances at birth needn’t define your life trajectory. If our vibrant economy and strength as a nation are imperiled by fiscal irresponsibility, that opportunity will cease. That is why we must act now to do our job. We must stick to the budget caps as a start, and then work toward a path to balance the budget. When we start with the money we take in per year, hold to that that level of spending, and allocate our resources accordingly, we can restore bipartisanship and ensure a bright future for our sons and daughters.

Roy represents Texas’s 21st District and is a member of the Budget Committee and the Oversight and Reform Committee.