Drunken Sailors: The New Bipartisan Budget Deal is Predictably Awful

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Posted: Jul 24, 2019 10:01 AM
Drunken Sailors: The New Bipartisan Budget Deal is Predictably Awful

Early last year, I wrote a piece entitled, "Let's Face It: Neither of These Awful Parties is Actually Serious About Fiscal Responsibility."  It was harsh, but accurate.  Democrats are disgraceful debt denialists when they're in and out of power.  Republicans care about the daunting math when they're in an opposition role, then blithely spend away when they're in charge.  As Mitch McConnell (of whom I'm generally a fan) reportedly and plausibly told the president, "no politician [has] ever lost office for spending more money."  In Trump, McConnell had a receptive audience for this message.  And thus, in an era of divided government, featuring characteristically reckless Democrats and a GOP barely even rhetorically committed to fiscal responsibility, we get this bipartisan monstrosity:

The four bipartisan congressional leaders and President Donald Trump jointly signed off on the $1.37 trillion budget agreement. That in and of itself represents all the dynamics for smooth sailing in the looming House and Senate votes...Here's the biggest takeaway from the agreement: it removes two significant crises from the plate of lawmakers and the White House -- the looming $126 billion in automatic spending cuts and, far more importantly, the potential for a US default in early September...The elements of the deal have been clear since talks started: a significant boost in defense spending in exchange for a significant boost in domestic spending, with a long-term debt ceiling suspension thrown in to ease market concerns. It's a recipe for plenty of votes for passage, yet plenty of gripes in opposition. But in the end, it's an agreement that lawmakers and aides on both sides say will pass...The sequester is dead. It's not postponed. It's not delayed. It is dead. It was an ode to fiscal restraint -- something conservatives still point to as a key fiscal victory from the Obama years -- but one that has been reversed or delayed four times since 2013. Now it's gone for good, amid deficits approaching $1 trillion and a debt level that has surpassed $22 trillion.

Politically, this clears the decks for any major cliffs or crises in the lead-up to a national election. It gives both sides new spending to brag about back home. And it kicks the fiscal can down the proverbial road even further, throwing one of the few brakes on wild spending into the garbage. It also does absolutely nothing to address the long-term drivers of our ballooning debt.  Some fiscal conservatives are up in arms:

"President Trump will have set the record for the largest increases in federal spending in the history of our country, surpassing George W. Bush's Republican record," said one member of the conservative Freedom Caucus. The caucus is expected to meet Tuesday to discuss the deal. But its leaders, Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), both key Trump allies, have remained uncharacteristically quiet since the deal's announcement, focusing their recent fire on an upcoming hearing with former special counsel Robert Mueller. Other conservatives have also been wary of criticizing Trump, who enthusiastically supported the deal in a tweet.

That last sentence is telling. There will be some opposition, but the GOP writ large isn't going to cross Trump.  This mess is going to become law, with both parties' fingerprints all over it.  And I do mean "mess:"

Trump and congressional leaders are nearing a deal that would raise the discretionary-spending caps by $320 billion over two years and offset less than one-quarter of those costs (and even those offsets would take a decade to materialize). The budget deal would essentially repeal the final two years of the 2011 Budget Control Act and raise the baseline for future discretionary spending by nearly $2 trillion over the decade. This represents a fitting conclusion of the Budget Control Act — the crown jewel of the 2011 “tea-party Congress.” The decade-long shredding of these hard-fought budget constraints mirrors the shredding of Republican credibility on fiscal responsibility...that brings us to 2019, when the return of trillion-dollar deficits has been met with a collective shrug from Republican leaders. The conventional wisdom among Washington Republicans is that populist conservative voters no longer care about spending or deficits and that Democrats and hostile media would savage any attempts to rein in government. So the debt limit is now regularly suspended, and the final two years of the Budget Control Act, 2020 and 2021, are poised to see a spending-cap increase of $320 billion with only minimal offsets. At one point, Republicans discussed extending the spending caps beyond 2021. Now, they will skip the charade.

Some of the deal's right-leaning defenders will note that it's not as bad as it could be, that defense-related spending won the day over various and sundry domestic projects, and that some pro-life components remained intact.  Those are mitigating, not redeeming, factors.  In terms of public opinion, this is a bitter pill to swallow, but it's true -- especially with zero meaningful leadership on the issue:


Someone will have no choice but to care someday, when the bill comes due.  There are only so many ways to delay the inevitable.  And as current "leaders" duck the hard choices, they make future decisions more painful, both for politicians and taxpayers.  Depressing.