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Budget hawks decry $1 trillion in approved spending

Budget hawks decry $1 trillion in approved spending
© Camille Fine

Budget hawks are up in arms over congressional spending following the passage of government funding bills exceeding $1 trillion for fiscal year 2019.

“I could not support it when we were already over $21 trillion in debt,” said Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), who voted against the most recent spending bill.

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In the past month, Congress passed five of its 12 annual spending bills, bundled into two packages. The first package amounted to $147 billion and the second one totaled $854 billion.

The second measure included a funding extension for the remaining seven appropriations bills, which will keep the related agencies operating through Dec. 7. The 2018 fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

The budget deficit is expected to approach $1 trillion next year, pushed up by the 2017 GOP tax law and a bipartisan deal to increase spending caps for 2018 and 2019, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Longer-term projections would see the debt rise to an unprecedented 200 percent of gross domestic product by 2048, up from current levels of 78 percent.

The extra debt, CBO noted, was set to make interest payments a larger portion of annual expenditures than Social Security costs and eclipse defense spending in the next 30 years.

The primary drivers of the nation’s spending remain mandatory spending programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Brat noted that in the process of agreeing to new budget caps, Republicans and Democrats agreed to add billions of dollars in spending, and that further spending was added through off-budget gimmicks that do not count toward the caps.

Conservative groups, such as the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, said Congress was addicted to spending.

"It’s deeply disappointing that reckless and irresponsible spending has become one of the consistent rare instances of bipartisan agreement in Washington,” said Brent Gardner, chief government affairs officer for Americans for Prosperity.

“This package unfortunately sets up yet another must-pass spending bill in December," he added. "Worse, it will come during a ‘lame duck’ session when many members have either lost elections or retired and are no longer directly accountable to taxpayers who deserve better.”

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said that Congress’s ability pass many of its bills on time was a good sign, but she lamented the lack of a fiscal framework.

“We’re pleased policymakers have likely avoided a shutdown and actually appropriated most of this year’s discretionary budget on time," she said. "But let’s not forgot that Congress did so without a budget and had to grease the wheels with $153 billion to pass these bills. That isn’t function; it’s a fiscal free-for-all."

Congress has not passed five annual spending bills in one fiscal year since 1996.