We’ve seen this movie before. Conservatives, eager to bend the curve on federal outlays, are preparing to use the only leverage they have (their votes) while Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer is talking about “House Republican extremists” causing a government shutdown. In most people’s eyes, Republicans have “lost” every shutdown fight since 1995. So why are conservatives back at it again?
Beyond their preference for a smaller government, conservatives are not alone in seeing runaway spending as a dire threat and will admit that their own party shares the blame. Our political system is structurally ill-equipped to turn off spending once it begins. A new estimate that the deficit will double to $2 trillion this year and Fitch Ratings’ recent downgrade of government credit are the most recent reminders that the problem is real. Efforts to rein in the deficit date back at least to the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings agreement in 1985 and include proposed Constitutional amendments, the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990 (PAYGO), the Line Item Veto Act of 1996, the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, a “sustainable growth rate” for Medicare reimbursements, George W. Bush’s plan to make Social Security sustainable, the 2010 Simpson-Bowles Commission, the 2011 ‘Supercommittee,’ sequestration, the discretionary spending caps in the Budget Control Act of 2011, revenue-producing tax increases, and growth-generating tax cuts.
None of it worked and the government is $32 trillion in debt. Congress rarely makes tough decisions without an action-forcing mechanism and conservatives want to be that mechanism. The House’s two conservative caucuses, the Freedom Caucus and the larger Republican Study Committee have identified similar priorities. Most broadly, they do not want the Covid-era surge in spending to serve as the baseline for future spending. The FY 2023 omnibus, which was called a “monstrosity” by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, passed the House with almost no GOP support in the very last days of the Democrats’ majority. Conservatives want to return to pre-Covid levels or lower. With $115 billion in rescissions, House appropriators have offered budgetary authority at pre-pandemic (FY 2022) levels, but conservatives say this is a gimmick that won’t reduce actual outlays. On this point, the Heritage Foundation says, ‘This represents an unprecedented expansion of rescissions as a budgetary tool to add spending within appropriations caps.’ Many conservatives also see the President’s emergency supplemental request as an end-run around the debt-limit agreement and have a longstanding position that supplementals should be offset.Continue Reading What Conservatives Want From the Spending Spat