This Budget Deal Is Not Conservative
By TIM PHILLIPS
December 17, 2013
For months, my group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), and our grassroots activists have been united in support of the discretionary spending limits established in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Our reason is simple: Although these cuts are modest, so-called sequestration is the only successful bipartisan spending restraint passed under an administration that has allowed the nation’s debt to balloon by almost $7 trillion.
Unfortunately, the budget plan approved in the House last week, and advanced in the Senate Tuesday, increases those spending limits by $63 billion over the next two years. AFP opposed the bill because the deal increased spending above the bipartisan caps.
According to some in the media, this position is the equivalent of calling for another government shutdown. But that is not the case. AFP has consistently advocated for the swift passage of legislation to fund the government at current levels.
That would have been sound strategy and solid policy. It would have forced the Senate and president to argue for breaking their 2011 promise to cut the deficit by trillions over the next 10 years. It would also have been politically untenable for Democrats in the Senate to push for a shutdown after their rhetoric in October. With the right strategy, the sequestration caps could have been saved.
As the budget deal was readied, it was said that Republican members of the powerful Armed Services and Appropriations committees would not support any bill that maintained the spending limits on their favorite programs. But given House Republicans’ aversion to another shutdown, it’s hard to imagine that the caucus’s most moderate members would have allowed one to occur. More likely, legislation to fund the government and uphold the caps would have passed with strong grassroots support.
AFP did not support October’s shutdown because it took the focus off the prize of locking in some measure of spending discipline in Washington. We articulated this position in February and maintained it as the shutdown loomed in late September. We saw that taking the focus off of the cuts—and instead advocating for a shutdown—would only serve the political agenda of bureaucrats and big spenders.
But the shutdown went ahead, and it ended in a political and policy loss for proponents of limited government. To end the shutdown, Congress lifted the debt ceiling without any concession on spending, let alone Obamacare. It was a predictable end to a poorly conceived strategy. It also made Congress understandably wary of another pointless showdown.
Some of our allies on the right have said that Obamacare is so devastating that it must be tied to government funding to be rolled back. We know this is not true. Conversely, many Republicans in Congress have said that Obamacare is so bad that we must cave in on spending now so we can focus on attacking the law. They are also wrong. Obamacare is bad enough all by itself that efforts to stop it need not wait for any special conditions. That’s why AFP has spent more than $16 million since August alone, waging substantive, aggressive opposition to Obamacare that has included dozens of TV ads, town halls, rallies, door knocking and phone banking. Conservatives do not have to choose between demanding fiscal restraint and opposing Obamacare. We can walk and chew gum at the same time.
Today, we vocally oppose ending spending caps because sequestration is working as planned. Since 2011, it has limited the size of government in a real way. Government spending had fallen for two consecutive years for the first time since the Eisenhower administration, according to CBO numbers.
Doomsayers on the left predicted that sequestration would transform the country into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Instead, a recent poll found that 58 percent of Americans want those reasonable spending cuts to stay in place.
The budget deal reverses these spending reductions. It moves most of the next two years’ spending limits so far into the future that they’re essentially meaningless. In fact, under the deal, 55 percent of the sequester reductions won’t be realized until 2022 and 2023. The point of the Budget Control Act was to match $2.1 trillion in new debt with $2.1 trillion in savings by 2021. This breaks that deal and leaves future reductions to the whims of Congress 10 years from now.
The likelihood that these cuts will actually happen a decade hence is minimal. Need proof? Look at how Congress just reneged on the spending promises of the Budget Control Act—and that was approved only three years ago.
This is a bad budget deal. It cedes the high ground on government spending with barely even a whimper. It’s a cautionary tale of what happens when Washington focuses on the wrong thing.
Conservatives head into 2014 with something very important to rally around. The government boondoggle known as Obamacare is affecting millions of Americans every day, in the form of less choice, canceled coverage and higher insurance premiums. AFP will double down on our efforts to highlight the impact of this terrible law and ultimately replace it with something that actually works for all Americans. And we’ll keep fighting to hold the line on spending, even if some Republicans won’t.
Tim Phillips is president of Americans for Prosperity.