by Jonathan Decker
On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a new budget agreement that would explode federal spending by an additional $320 billion over two years in a bipartisan vote. Most disappointingly, the budget deal really amounts to the final nail in the coffin repealing “sequestration” — the hard fought (yet entirely non-draconian) spending restraint won by the the Tea Party during the Obama-era — by kicking the spending caps all the way out to 2028 and 2029 where, the safe money says, they will be ignored again.
The deal was reportedly brokered by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Next time around, President Trump may want to consider a different lead negotiator. While some Republicans are celebrating the fact that the budget includes more military spending and amounts to less than the spending increases Pelosi reportedly asked for, $320 billion in new spending over two years with the only notional “pay-fors” being customs user fee increases is super swampy. With a Republican president and Republican-controlled Senate, are we really supposed to believe any spending restraint offsets were unachievable? It seems clear that conservatives folded their hands too soon.
I get it, cutting spending is tough. That’s not what Congress does. Sequestration was only enacted in the first place because it was triggered by failed negotiations at a larger budget agreement…meaning Congress was dragged into it kicking and screaming (and they began to undermine its spending restraint soon after passage, so the cap-busting certainly predates Trump). But we expect better of Republican leadership than this budget — and voters aren’t going to be super jazzed about rewarding their bad behavior.
The budget agreement seems extra confusing given some previous conversations I’ve had with the administration. After President Trump signed the last budget-busting omnibus bill into law, a White House staffer told me Trump nearly instantly regretted his decision. I was told the President’s frustration vacillated from the overall spending of the bill to the fact that his priorities (the wall) were not funded. Trump will likely find this budget deal even more frustrating, as 2020 Democrats repeatedly hammer him over the rising deficit and attribute it to his tax cuts rather than Congress’s insatiable appetite for new spending.
To err on the side of optimism, meaningful spending restraint always struck me as a second-term priority for President Trump since, as mentioned before, it’s politically hard to do. That said, obliterating sequestration now gives us a worse baseline to start that conversation. In the budget battle, the swamp got a clean win. Republicans — you were elected to shrink government, not massively expand it.