Why do Republicans keep trying to outspend Democrats in Congress?

Why do Republicans keep trying to outspend Democrats in Congress?
© Greg Nash

As Ronald Reagan might say, “There they go again.” Republicans and Democrats in Congress could not agree on a financially responsible federal budget, so the latest bipartisan deal allows for another blast off in federal spending and national debt. Under the new agreement, the debt ceiling rises by up to $3 trillion, meaning that our indebtedness soars further into the stratosphere toward $30 trillion in just a few years.

Four decades ago, the entire national debt of the United States was less than $1 trillion. Today, it is 25 times larger. The deal also allows spending to catapult to $4.6 trillion next year, up from $3.5 trillion in 2014. That is one trillion more “cha chings” to the federal cash register in six years.

Sorry, Republicans. You cannot blame this on the spendthrift Democrats. The deficit reached nearly $1.5 trillion during the early years of President Obama, before it went down but has now surged back above $1 trillion under the watch of Republicans. They controlled the House, the Senate, and the Oval Office. But government outlays financed by red ink still rose every year, and not only for “mandatory” programs like Social Security.

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As acting White House chief of staff and budget expert Mick Mulvaney has pointed out many times, the biggest spider in spending has been in the “discretionary” programs, which include everything from the National Endowment for the Arts to federal job training programs to transit programs. Under this new deal, federal spending will rise by $320 billion above the agreed on spending caps in the next two years.

Why did Republicans agree to that? First, because once again they have agreed to give Democrats virtually dollar for dollar what they want for social programs, in order to corral Democratic votes for more military expenditures. That is a bad compromise, and taxpayers are the losers. Second, my hunch is that, despite the sanctimonious rhetoric about balanced budgets, Republicans in Congress do not actually want to cut spending any more than Democrats do, so they did not put up a fight.

The story of the return of big deficits in the last several years really boils down to an unwillingness of Republicans to enforce the hard fought spending caps they won back in 2011. These were to be backed up with automatic “sequester” spending cuts. For three years, those caps held and federal spending actually declined. But starting in 2014, the caps were pierced and without that fiscal restraint, hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending was unleashed. It has just happened again.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress ignored nearly every proposed spending cut that the Trump administration proposed and that White House budget director Russ Vought pushed for valiantly but futilely. The deal punctures big holes in the caps, now essentially null and void. It is the “Johnny bar the door” when it comes to ratcheting up spending.

Here is just one example of the capitulation in the budget battles. Last year, the White House and many Republicans in Congress were pushing work requirements for able bodied food stamp recipients. At a time when there have been about seven million unfilled jobs, and we have the lowest unemployment rate in half a century with employers begging for willing workers, the Republicans and the White House would not insist on reforms on an issue that the vast majority of Americans agree with, that those on welfare who can work should work for the aid that taxpayers give them.

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The Government Accountability Office has discovered $150 billion or so of fraudulent and erroneous payments under Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and the earned income tax credit. Far too little has been done to stop this ripping off of taxpayers. Open The Books, a government watchdog, found billions of dollars of similar waste in federal agencies, yet the outrages continue year after year.

The good news is that, because the economy is growing, the debt has stabilized as a share of our gross domestic product. President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness, ballots and battling opioids: Why the Universal Postal Union benefits the US Sanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth MORE is right about that. Growth is the prerequisite to bringing down spending, while prosperity is generating revenues. Over the last two years with the tax cuts, federal receipts will be up nearly $200 billion. The tax cuts are not causing the spillage of red ink. The culprit is spending. There are certainly some fiscal hawks left in the Republican Party. Representatives Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan keep fighting a lonely fight for discipline. But they are sadly outnumbered and outgunned inside their own caucus.

Think about what a difference a few years makes. Republicans took over Congress in 2010 during the Tea Party era then expanded their majorities in 2014, promising to stop the spending and borrowing smorgasbord. They did at first but eventually got swallowed up by the Washington swamp, so voters are starting to wonder what happened to those fiscal hardliners as they see that, without blinking an eye or expressing any shame, Congress will approve a budget plan that extends annual budget red ink to the tune of $1 trillion every year for year after year after year.

Sure, the Democratic brigades of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPence says it's 'vital' for Congress to pass US-Mexico-Canada trade deal The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump heads to California Obama, Bush among those paying tribute to Cokie Roberts: 'A trailblazing figure' MORE, who now control the House, share some of the blame. They are enablers. But it is still too easy and even farcical for the Republicans to point to the Democrats when they have crumbs all over their face from the feast. As the budget keeps reaching new records of federal spending, the Republican argument that “the devil made us do it” seem increasingly too convenient and may fail.

What is more depressing is that, as bad as the Republicans are on fiscal responsibility, the Democrats are still much worse. I recently tallied all of the spending the Democratic candidates and other figures in Congress have proposed, and the price tag for Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, reparations, minimum wage hikes, more Social Security benefits, and student loan forgiveness approaches $100 trillion over 20 years.

This could eventually be the price tag that Americans wind up paying for Republican unwillingness to fight for fiscal sanity. Voters may simply stay home and conclude, as George Wallace once famously put it, “There ain’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties.” The Republicans cannot outspend the Democrats in Congress. Why do they keep trying?

Stephen MooreStephen MooreShame on Europe at the G-7 President Trump is right: Mainstream media 'do a very good job' Immigrants should not be on welfare MORE is a distinguished visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation and an economic consultant with FreedomWorks. He served as an adviser to the 2016 Donald Trump campaign. His latest book out with Arthur Laffer is “Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy.”