No more empty promises on spending control: Stick to the sequester

Thomas Fletcher Policy Analyst, Americans for Prosperity
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The deadline for the budget conference committee is fast approaching, and expectations remain generally low that conferees will reach an agreement on spending for the rest of the 2014 fiscal year. There seems to be growing support for delaying or eliminating the spending cuts from the 2011 Budget Control Act. But any kind of delay or roll back of these modest cuts in discretionary spending would be a terrible mistake and a broken promise by lawmakers. That’s why budget conferees and their colleagues in Congress should pass legislation at an overall spending level of $967 billion.

Despite agreeing to cap future spending in the Budget Control Act of 2011, many members of Congress are defiantly calling for legislation that exceeds the agreed-upon spending caps. Speaking on the Senate floor last February, shortly before the first round of sequester cuts kicked in, Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski claimed that these spending levels would be “devastating to our economy and to the functioning of government.” With nine months of hindsight, we see that the world did not in fact end.

The United States is on an unsustainable fiscal trajectory, and capping spending is important in order to reduce the burden on future generations. Unfortunately, Congress is poised to break the promises it made on spending and kick the proverbial can down the road even further. Prior to the government shut down on October 1, the Senate passed a “clean” continuing resolution with spending levels of $986 billion, which exceeds the important caps on discretionary spending. Breaking these caps would be a mistake.

Passing legislation that exceeds $967 billion, as congressional appropriators would like to do, would be breaking their promises to their constituents, who sent them to Washington to deal with the country’s spending problem.

If Congress passes legislation that exceeds $967 billion, it would trigger another round of sequester cuts beginning in January. Relying on sequester to bring the spending levels down automatically is irresponsible budgeting and a cop-out for lawmakers to avoid making tough choices. That’s not to say that we should get rid of sequester, as it is currently 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 preferred than an across-the board cut, keeping federal spending in check is the top priority.

Meanwhile, there is overwhelming grassroots support for putting the federal government back on the path of fiscal fitness. There are over two million Americans for Prosperity activists in all 50 states, and they’re clearly fed up with the status quo of unchecked spending. Many members of the 112th Congress were elected with the mandate to stop this reckless spending that is essentially generational theft. In town hall meetings and rallies across the country ordinary citizens recognize that it’s time to bring fiscal sanity to Washington. Elected officials would be wise to heed these calls.

The budget conference presents members of Congress with an opportunity to live up to the promises that they made to their constituents in controlling spending. They shouldn’t miss this opportunity. In the big picture, these cuts amount to little more than a blip on the budget radar, at just 2 percent of total discretionary spending. If Congress can’t keep their promises in making these modest cuts now, then there’s little reason to believe that they will be will to control spending in the future.

No more empty promises. Now is the time for elected officials to make good on the promises they made on spending. Congress should live up to the agreement it made in the Budget Control Act by passing a continuing resolution funding government at the $967 billion spending level.

Thomas Fletcher is a policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity.