Much as with the border invasion, Senate GOP leaders Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn don’t believe our unprecedented spending is a problem. They only perk up when the Trump administration tries to combat either of those problems. Then, they say they care about the problem but just oppose the administration’s solution, of course, without offering their own.
In just the first eight months of this fiscal year, our government has spent $3 trillion. That is $255 billion more than at this time last year and nearly half a trillion more than during the first eight months of FY 2016. In other words, congressional Republicans have signed off on spending that is 18.2 percent higher than under the final year of Obama’s presidency, when Republicans were railing against the unconscionable rise in debt.
Kind of sounds similar to the trajectory of the border numbers, huh? Talk about progress.
At the end of this fiscal year, on September 30, the Trump administration will have two leverage points converging around the same time to actually force concessions from Democrats to at least mitigate the uncharted growth of the debt: the debt ceiling and the automatic reinstatement of the budget caps.
GOP leaders have already convinced the White House to capitulate on the debt ceiling and treat the stop sign of the debt as the problem rather than the debt itself. They continually repeat the inaccurate bromide about avoiding “default,” even though we would never default right after the debt ceased to grow.
There is only one way we will default on our credit: if we fail to pay the interest payments on the debt. As much as interest on the debt is growing, the annual cost in 2020 is projected to be $450 billion. CBO projects the treasury will take in $3.68 trillion in revenue. Thus, there is no default, and anyone who tells you there will be one is lying.
In reality, even if we fail to raise the debt ceiling, especially in the short run while we get our fiscal house in order and address the true debt crisis (not the debt ceiling “crisis”), there will be plenty of tax revenue to cover those debt payments, the military, national security functions, and the key social programs including Social Security, Medicare, Veterans Affairs. Although the revenue is not enough to meet all our current profligate spending desires, it is well over the level of the Obama era and would cover all of the important programs.
But God forbid should we actually do what families would do in this situation by suspending new debt and cutting whatever expenditures revenue cannot cover, or at least compromising between spending cuts and issuance of new debt.
Which leaves us with the spending caps. The beauty of the upcoming budget debate is that conservatives would win by simply doing nothing. Under the status quo, the spending caps of the 2011 Budget Control Act automatically revert to previous levels. This means that defense and non-defense discretionary spending automatically drop $35 billion beginning in October. Then, on January 1, 2020, automatic sequestration kicks in and another $89 billion is cut. Thus, if we simply operate on a continuing resolution at the end of September without anything extra tied in during the first few months of the fiscal year, it will result in $124 billion less in discretionary spending than the current year.
Democrats are the ones who need to get a new law passed in order to increase spending. But whoops, I forgot, there are actually two Democrat parties in Congress. You see, GOP leaders want to abolish the spending caps just as much as the Democrats do. Thus, Politico reports that when Trump’s acting Office of Management and Budget director, Russ Vought, suggested to Mitch McConnell in April that they simply give Democrats a clean debt ceiling increase without throwing in an increase in spending levels for dessert, the esteemed majority leader reportedly snapped, “Listen buddy, we’re not doing a clean debt ceiling. Get a budget caps deal.”
A “deal,” of course, in McConnell’s parlance, means giving Democrats what they want and tacking it onto the existing debt ceiling capitulation. His sidekick, John Cornyn, added, “I don’t see the leader as negotiating with OMB or the chief of staff. The leader doesn’t negotiate with staff.”
Thus, their strategy is to sideline Russ Vought and chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, while working with the more liberal Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. This is how badly McConnell and Cornyn desire left-wing policies.
As always, they hide behind the usual excuses. Cornyn said, “We do need to cut spending. But cutting discretionary spending, especially defense spending, is not the place to save money … it’s in the entitlement programs.”
It’s always the fight that is never in front of us at the moment that they want us to chase. Hey, increase spending today on the promise of fighting entitlement spending tomorrow.
These people have shown even less moxie to fight entitlement spending than spending on the bureaucracies. They couldn’t even hold the line on new disaster spending and gave Democrats everything they wanted. The 800-pound gorilla in the room is health care. Yet, we now know that McConnell believes “there is no difference” between the two parties on the major elements of Obamacare, which means they have accepted the driving philosophy behind what has spiked health care costs and spending over the past few years and decades.
Moreover, while most of what is driving the insane debt is entitlement spending, it’s important to remember that when we cut the discretionary spending, we are not only saving money but draining the Swamp and its policies.
The grim reality is that GOP leaders will not fight on entitlement spending, they will not fight on discretionary spending, they will not fight on health care, and they will not fight on the border. They do not share Trump’s campaign promises on a single issue. They hide behind military spending, but they want to use that spending for more endless social work in the Middle East rather than at the border against the cartels, again, in contrast to Trump’s electoral mandate.
President Trump is going to have a lot of decisions to make in the coming months. Does he support the more MAGA elements of his administration or the liberals? Will he once again allow McConnell to destroy his campaign promises, his leverage, and his budget priorities, or will he wield his veto pen?
And finally, the president needs to ask himself what his presidency would look like in a second term if McConnell and Cornyn continue to lead the Senate. He need not look much beyond the existing trend of illegal immigration numbers and spending figures to see what this country will look like in 2024 if he doesn’t get more aggressive both with legislative strategy and with primaries. Both McConnell and Cornyn are up for re-election in 2020, and they are just as much against Trump as Justin Amash … without his virtues on fiscal issues.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.