Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake summed up the federal government’s latest budget bill well when he noted, “the only time we discover bipartisanship (in Congress) is when we spend more money.”
If the budget deal, reached in the wee hours Friday after a short partial government shutdown and signed by President Donald Trump, does anything well, it is to spend money. The exact extent of that spending isn’t clear because, as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul noted in his long protest speech that prolonged the vote, nobody had read the entire 700-page bill before casting a vote.
As a result, the government will keep operating — Congress has until March 23 to codify the deal, which includes a large increase in the debt ceiling — and deficits, now the friend of both parties, will continue to grow.
This means the proverbial cans of fiscal crises were kicked down the road again.
Currently, the national debt is about $14 trillion, or 77 percent of the economy. Add in the money government owes to itself, from one department to another, and the debt rises to 105 percent of the economy. This debt cannot continue to rise unabated without one day reaching a point at which the nation cannot pay its debts without inflating the dollar and paying higher interest rates on money borrowed.
When that day comes, there should be little confusion over how things got to that point.
The biggest beneficiary of this deal is the Pentagon, which will receive about $1.4 trillion over two years, making a mockery of previously imposed spending caps.
Conservatives fought for this, arguing the military was underfunded and unable to answer the challenges posed by the nation’s enemies. It is heartening, though, to see Utah's Rep. John Curtis and Sen. Mike Lee among the few who saw past the collusive spending, broke from their party and voted against the bill — the only members of the Utah delegation to do so.
Those who did vote for the increased spending, however, provided no credible evidence to support the claims of a strapped military.
Significantly, a Defense Department study released three years ago found $125 billion in administrative waste that could be cut through attrition, early retirements, a streamlined use of contractors and an effective use of technology. That study was subsequently downplayed, its summary removed from the Defense Department’s website.
Meanwhile, as federal budgeting expert Miriam Pemberton wrote for The Hill, the new budget deal will allow the military to add another aircraft carrier group to the 10 already in existence. No other nation on earth has more than two.
The U.S. spends more on its military than the next eight nations combined. Certainly, the nation needs a strong, reliable military capable of defending freedom and pursing U.S. interests abroad, but those capabilities eventually will be put at risk by out-of-control spending and the lack of any serious accountability.
Non-defense spending rises almost as quickly in this budget deal. That includes money for disaster relief and a four-year extension to the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The issue isn’t whether these programs are worthy of support; it is how the government intends to pay for them, which is through borrowing.
Friday’s deal did accomplish one thing. It put off any serious budget battles until well after this year’s midterm election. No doubt, this is a signal that both major parties have settled on strategies for winning voters in November.
Unfortunately, neither party appears interested in making deficit spending or a balanced budget part of that strategy.