Budget woes got you down? Shutdown threats making you blue? Just remember this: in Washington, no conflict is so intractable that throwing money at everyone won’t solve it.
The Washington Post reports this morning that Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell may have unlocked the solution to the budget standoff, not just for FY2018 but also for FY2019 as well. All it will take is blowing through the budget caps and running up even higher deficits, just days after both parties declared themselves Defensor Fiscus:
Top Senate leaders were working Tuesday to finalize a sweeping long-term budget deal that would include a defense spending boost President Trump has long demanded alongside an increase in domestic programs championed by Democrats. …
Under tentative numbers discussed by congressional aides who were not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations, defense spending would get an $80 billion boost above the existing $549 billion in spending for 2018. Nondefense spending would rise by $63 billion from its current $516 billion. The 2019 budget would include similar increases.
“Democrats have made our position in these negotiations very clear,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “We support an increase in funding for our military and our middle class. The two are not mutually exclusive. We don’t want to do just one and leave the other behind.”
For the sake of context, the cap adjustments in the 2013 budget deal totaled $63 billion combined over two years. This deal described by the Post looks more in the range of $300 billion, which is what Politico reported last night:
The deal is expected to bust budget caps by $300 billion for both domestic and defense programs over the next two years. It will also achieve near parity between defense and domestic funding increases — a key priority of Democrats — and approach $150 billion in new defense spending to satisfy hawks, according to a person briefed on the talks.
Agreeing to those figures would finally allow House and Senate appropriations chairmen to finish an omnibus spending package, ending the cycle of short-term government funding bills, at least for a few months.
Hey, at least we’d have a return to normal order on appropriations, right? All it will cost us is … a return to trillion-dollar deficits for the first time since Barack Obama’s first term, the Associated Press points out. Republicans had mostly shrugged off the deficit impacts of the tax reform bill, arguing that it would pay for itself over the long haul (which the CBO disputes), but Democrats screamed bloody hell over deficits over the last two months. It’s amazing what increased spending will do to quiet those concerns, eh?
Fiscal conservatives will scream bloody hell too, especially over the need to raise the debt ceiling by a considerable amount. It won’t matter; they’ll be pushed to the margins in a grand bargain for which Democrats will vote in droves to pass. The sequester caps of 2011 gave Congress several years in which to make some hard decisions and live within its means, I argue in my column for The Week, but in the end they’ve abandoned the opportunity to spend like drunken sailors … again:
So much for Republican spending discipline, eh? And for that matter, so much for the feigned concern over deficits in the Democrats’ opposition to the tax reform bill, too. When the chips are down, both parties gobble them up enthusiastically and then borrow more money for the dip. Despite having the budget caps in place for more than six years, Congress has not reconsidered the scope of America’s military mission and its expense, nor the limits of federal beneficence and the emergency mindset of domestic programs long after the end of the Great Recession. And those budget issues pale in comparison to the irresponsibility of borrowing 40 percent of the money spent in the overall budget and the massive fiscal cliffs ahead in entitlement programs as the population ages.
If the Senate rolls the budget compromise into the continuing resolution passed by the House on Tuesday and forces the House to pass it, Congress can at least stop kicking the 2018 budget can down the road, but that’s only a small relief. Time’s running out for the other cans, whether Congress stops kicking or not.
Watch for floor action today and tomorrow on this deal. The House passed a short-term CR yesterday, but the Senate will gut that and put this deal into the shell of the House bill. If Schumer and McConnell make that work, the House will take it up — and it will likely sail through easily on a sea of borrowed dollars.