I was tempted this morning to declare the death of the tea party (2009-2018) after the spending bonanza Congress approved in the wee hours of Friday. But given that 67 Republicans in the House and 16 in the Senate voted against the bill, perhaps “death” is a bit overstated. It might be more accurate to say those who still opt for fiscal restraint are wandering the wilderness even as their own party is -- for now -- firmly in the majority.
But I do think it’s worth noting a few things here.
First, one ought not be in favor of cutting taxes -- even if one believes that the economic effects will be such that they largely or partially offset the lost revenues over time -- and then turn around and increase spending. Yet, that’s exactly what the GOP did between December’s tax reform vote and this budget vote. Republicans may like to deride Democrats as the “tax and spend” party, but the GOP increasingly is the “don’t tax and still spend” party.
Second, this is why “bipartisanship” is not necessarily a good thing. Bipartisanship led to sequestration, which is a big reason budget deficits had declined in recent years: Republicans agreed to cap military spending, Democrats other domestic spending. But bipartisanship was also required to undo that arrangement: Republicans got their higher military spending, Democrats their higher other domestic spending, and neither had the votes to pass this mess on their own. Just because both parties agree to it in a compromise does not render it automatically good. Far too often, it’s the opposite.
Third, the fear mongering about government shutdowns has led us to the point any deal to keep the government open is considered a “good” deal. That’s nonsense. It requires us to ignore not only that minimal pain in the short term can lead to better long-term outcomes, but also that Congress doesn’t have to approve all spending at one time. Federal appropriations are divided into 12 buckets. There is no reason Congress can’t pass some of the buckets at one time and others at another. That is, it could fund the military, along with Social Security and health-care programs (more on those in a moment), without funding absolutely everything else. Just as these budget deals need not be struck at the 11th hour every single time, they also don’t have to be all-or-nothing affairs. The combination of the two leads people to make very bad decisions sometimes.
Finally, all the hand-wringing about budget deficits is meaningless coming from anyone who won’t support changes to mandatory program such as Social Security and Medicare. They represent the largest share of federal spending, as well as the fastest-growing elements of federal spending. We would still face a fiscal crisis even without the new budget deal, because apparently no elected person in Washington, D.C., is willing to acknowledge and address those facts in a meaningful way -- starting with President Trump.
That’s the most bipartisan thing about our federal government now, and for the foreseeable future.