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Congress votes to expand deficit — and many in GOP are unhappy
Republicans are calling themselves hypocritical when it comes to the $1.3 trillion omnibus approved by Congress this week.
The legislation adds to a disturbing trend if you are a conservative Republican worried about the deficit: It's another bill backed by GOP congressional leaders and a Republican president that will add greatly to the nation's debt.
"It just boggles my mind that we continue to spend at a level that's no different than the last three or four years of the Obama administration," said Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee caucus.
He said the GOP looked "hypocritical" and "disingenuous."
Estimates predict that deficits could exceed $1 trillion as soon as next year given the new spending hikes and the GOP tax-cut bill approved last year.
Annual debt interest payments alone could rise to $1 trillion within the decade.
And the latest damage to the nation's fiscal health has been done with Republicans in charge at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
"We're codifying levels never seen before, an upward trend in government spending, that should give all of us pause," said House Freedom Caucus member Mark Sanford (R-S.C.).
Ninety House Republicans voted against the omnibus spending bill, many with concerns about the debt and the rushed pace at which the measure is moving through Congress.
The bill was released late Wednesday with a noon vote Thursday, giving lawmakers little time to read a 2,232-page bill.
Democrats ridiculed the process, arguing not a single Republican would have voted for a Democratic measure rushed with similar speed. A few GOP lawmakers agreed, including Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas).
"It is a disaster," Gohmert said Thursday morning before the vote in an interview on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal." He later voted against the spending bill.
"It's the very thing that we belittled Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] over, when she said 'we have to pas the bill to see what's in it,' " he said. "You have a 2,200-page bill ... and you got 24 hours, maybe 36 - it's just, it's insane. It's no way to govern."
Still, 145 GOP lawmakers voted for the bill, which includes an increase in funding for the military and other priorities sought by Republicans.
"The economy is going, we're at the defense spending we need, we have the Homeland Security funding and certainly we needed Gateway [project funds]," said Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.).
A number of GOP lawmakers who supported the measure said they think the main cause of the growing debt is mandatory spending such as Medicare and Social Security - as opposed to discretionary spending, which is dealt with in the omnibus.
"Until people around here want to get serious about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, there's no way to balance it," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), another top appropriator, said he'd like to see another commission set up to examine debt reduction, similar to the Simpson-Bowles Commission in 2010 whose recommendations were not adopted.
"I was one of a handful of people who supported what they were trying to do," he said.
Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), a fiscal hawk who voted against the spending bill, agreed that discretionary spending is not as big a problem as mandatory spending.
"It's a fraction of a fraction of what mandatory entitlements are spending," he said, noting that projected increases in medical inflation and an aging population would cost mandatory spending programs twice as much over a decade as a given year of defense spending.
"My terror is that by the time we start to come up with rational solutions, so much of the baby boomer generation will be in retirement benefits that none of the solutions will have the economic effect that's needed to flatten out the curve," he added.
Conceding that mandatory spending is a greater problem, deficit hawks argued that increases in discretionary spending are nonetheless troubling.
Romina Boccia, deputy director for economic policy at the Heritage Foundation, said that while mandatory spending is the primary driver of debt in the long run, "this bill undoubtedly supercharges our growth in the deficit and the debt."
"We're ultimately mortgaging the future for a massive spending increase," she said, adding that much of the funds allocated to federal agencies may end up being wasted.
Many in the GOP lay the blame for deficits at the feet of Democrats, whose support they need to pass spending bills in the Senate.
"If we had a simple majority in the Senate like we do in the House, on appropriations bills only, the spending would not be this high," said Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas).
Walker said the fiscal situation would not improve so long as Senate rules required more than a simple majority.
"As long as there's a 60-vote threshold on appropriations, I don't see how we ever resolve the spending issues or the budget as a whole," he said before voting against the spending bill.
Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), a member of the House Budget Committee, said the entire budget process needed to be revamped.
"We do have to change the process," he said. "I'd like to see a Budget Committee that can pass a budget that we follow, that if we don't follow we need to make sure we tell the American people why we're not following it."
The budget caps deal struck in February created a bipartisan commission to examine the budgeting process and recommend changes. Those recommendations will be nonbinding.
Passage of the spending bill follows Republicans' approval of a tax-cut package in December that the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates would add more than $1 trillion to the deficit even after accounting for economic growth.
Conservatives said they hoped the tax cuts would be paired with spending cuts, and are dismayed to see that isn't happening.
"Ideally you would have sound tax policy pared with better fiscal policy on the spending side," said National Taxpayers Union Executive Vice President Brandon Arnold.
Deficit hawks suggested that there currently is a lack of political will or leadership on cutting spending and the debt.
"Making real budget choices is always difficult," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.