By Thomas Fletcher
With the next fiscal crisis looming right after the holidays, members of Congress have an opportunity to live up to their agreements on getting federal spending under control. The House-Senate budget conference committee has a deadline of December 13 to find an agreement on spending for the rest of the 2014 fiscal year. Conferees and their colleagues in Congress should pass legislation at an overall spending level of $967 billion.
Despite agreeing to cut future spending in the Budget Control Act of 2011, many members of Congress are calling for passing legislation that exceeds the BCA spending caps. Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski claimed on the Senate floor that these spending levels would be “devastating to our economy and to the functioning of government.”
Capping spending is important because it will start to bring the country on a fiscally sustainable path and reduce the burden on future generations. Unfortunately, Congress is poised to continue its troubling trend of unchecked spending and empty promises. The Senate budget resolution adheres to spending levels at $1.058 trillion, and the versions of the Continuing Resolution that Congress considered previous to the government shut down in October was at a$986 billion level. Both of these proposals break the agreed-upon spending caps.
The danger in passing legislation that exceeds $967 billion, as congressional appropriators would like to do, is that it would sent the message that elected officials in Washington are not serious about cutting spending. It would convey that Congress is happy to talk the talk on cutting spending, but when the votes come up, it doesn’t walk the walk.
Passing legislation exceeding $967 billion would also bring another round of sequester cuts beginning in January. Planning to spend more than the spending cap while relying on sequester to bring the levels down automatically is irresponsible budgeting and unrealistic. By no means is this to say that we should get rid of sequester, however—sequester is the best tool we have right now in keeping federal spending in check. Conservatives fought hard for sequester, and they should fight hard to keep it in place. Although a targeted approach to cutting spending would be better than an across-the board approach, keeping federal spending in check should be a top priority.
No more empty promises. Congress should live up to its agreement by passing a continuing resolution funding government at $967 billion spending level.