Politics & Policy

Late Freeze

Before Congress can move on to President Obama’s budget — you know, that gargantuan, $3.6 trillion re-imagining of the citizen’s relationship to the state — it must first finish funding last year’s merely massive budget. As usual, Congress failed to pass its annual appropriations bills on time, and it has rolled up all of its overdue homework into what’s known as an omnibus spending bill. 

The 1,129-page bill would spend $410 billion to fund government operations through September of this year. The bill would increase domestic spending by 8 percent over last year, and it contains $8 billion in earmarked spending for local projects of questionable necessity. Senate majority leader Harry Reid tried to ram the bill through last week, but he couldn’t get the 60 votes needed to proceed. Amidst much grumbling, the House and Senate passed a continuing resolution to keep the government operating for five more days while lawmakers try to hammer out a deal.

That last point is important to note. Anyone who tells you that Congress must pass the omnibus to keep the government operating is bluffing. If necessary, Congress could pass a continuing resolution, or CR, to fund the government roughly at last year’s levels through September, which is the end of the fiscal year. This is precisely what House majority leader John Boehner is pushing for, as it would constitute a spending freeze to slow the incredible pace at which the Democrats are running up the deficit. 

We don’t usually worry too much about government borrowing, but this year the government is asking the debt market for a tremendous amount of cash. Although President Obama never tires of informing us that he inherited a projected $1.2 trillion deficit, the Congressional Budget Office has recently updated that number upward to $1.7 trillion. That means that since he took office, Obama has added the equivalent of Bush’s largest deficit ($455 billion) to the deficit he inherited. 

Much of that increase reflects the ponderous stimulus package Congress recently passed. One must admire the gall of senators like Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh and Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter — both of whom voted for the $800 billion stimulus bill — as they admonish their colleagues over a measly 8 percent bump in domestic spending. If lots of government spending is good for the economy, as these senators insisted just weeks ago, isn’t more spending better? Both Bayh and Specter are up for re-election in moderate states, and one hopes their constituents won’t be fooled by this attempt to regain their squandered credibility on fiscal discipline. 

Though we find their opposition to the omnibus cynical, we begrudgingly admit that we hope moderates in both parties work together to defeat the bill. Instead of rushing through a massive spending hike, Congress should enact a CR that essentially freezes spending at its current levels — with all the new programs and bailouts coming down the pike, Republicans need to fight for every spending cut they can possibly get. If the moderates abandon this manageable option and settle for a “compromise” that makes only marginal, face-saving cuts, we’ll know exactly what to expect from them in the coming years: not much.