2017: The year congressional Republicans failed to deliver on their promises

2017: The year congressional Republicans failed to deliver on their promises
© Greg Nash

Just when we all thought 2017 didn’t have much gas left in the tank, it’s about to get worse.

The mother of all spending bills is coming.

Congress must reach a deal to fund the government by Dec. 8, or pass a short term Continuing Resolution until a deal is made shortly thereafter. A number of lawmakers have already latched onto the impending deadline as a vehicle for numerous unrelated priorities.

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Statements and press reports suggest that deals are in the works to explode spending restraints, bail out health insurance companies, funnel more new and non-offset spending toward hurricane relief and provide amnesty to “Dreamers” — young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. All of this portends a bill so large that it threatens to send a crater through the deficit, and likely with it, the GOP majority.

 

For years, Republicans have run on a platform of fiscal responsibility, repeal of ObamaCare, tax cuts and reform of the welfare state. Despite having a unified majority, they have delivered on none of these promises. (In fairness, tax reform has passed the House, but the bill’s ability to clear the Senate is far from guaranteed).

Without accomplishments on key issues, it’s very possible that the sole policies the GOP will deliver this year are trillion-dollar deficits, a billion-dollar bailout for health insurers, an amnesty package, and the destruction of the spending caps enacted in 2011.

It’s a nightmare scenario for conservatives. For Republicans, it represents a hypocrisy they will have to grapple with for decades. In 2016, the party platform promised “firm caps on future debt,” a full repeal of ObamaCare, and opposition to any form of amnesty.

If this monster omnibus goes through as described, Republicans in cycle in 2018 and beyond will have to find ways to explain why they went to Washington and did — literally — the exact opposite of what they promised.

The destruction of the spending caps enacted in the Budget Control Act is a particularly bitter pill for conservatives to swallow. While there are strong arguments to be made that the cap on defense spending may need to be modified, raised or otherwise circumvented, the cap on discretionary spending should not be moved.

The discretionary cap has actually done what years of rhetoric could not: It has reduced discretionary spending by 16 percent over the last six years, and is thus responsible for the first consecutive stretch of declining federal spending since Dwight Eisenhower’s first term in office.

To have such a monumental fiscal accomplishment undone by Republican majorities is an irony that just fuels the cynicism that many voters now hold toward a party which claims the mantle of fiscal prudence.

Likewise, rather than repealing ObamaCare as they promised to do for nearly a decade, Congress appears poised to bail it out. Insurance companies are seeking an additional $4 to $5 billion, allegedly to keep individual premiums from soaring.

However, according to the Congressional Budget Office, these subsidies won’t even fix that problem. Why? Because insurers will pocket most of the subsidy rather than rebating that money back to consumers.

The effect, then, will be for Republicans to enrich insurance companies, prop up ObamaCare, and do nothing to help those ravaged by its consequences. 

The parade of horribles goes on. 

Congress has already spent over $50 billion in new funding for hurricane relief, and is preparing to fork over $44 billion more, without any offsets. While House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBush, Romney won't support Trump reelection: NYT Twitter joins Democrats to boost mail-in voting — here's why Lobbying world MORE (R-Wis.) has claimed that a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will not be included in a year-end spending package, prominent Democrats are threatening to shut down the government unless they get a fix, guaranteeing the issue will get some floor time.                        

And somewhere, in the thousands of pages of bill text, there will be a tiny paragraph that waives a law passed in 2010, called the Pay-As-You-Go Act. Passed with much fanfare in 2010, this law is supposed to require Congress to offset any new mandatory spending so that it doesn’t increase the deficit. But why live by spending restraints when you can just waive them? 

Republicans in Congress aren’t just facing an end of the year spending deadline. After a year of failing to deliver on their promises, this spending bill represents the last chance for Republicans to seek a partial redemption with the voters who sent them to Washington expecting much more.

Rachel Bovard (@RachelBovard) is the senior director of policy for The Conservative Partnership, a nonprofit group headed by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint aimed at promoting limited government.