Politics & Policy

Democrats Still Want to Spend More

Even as we approach the debt ceiling, they can’t stop themselves.

It’s no secret that Democrats love to spend money, but given their recent behavior in the debt negotiations, perhaps it’s time for A&E producers to feature them in the next installment of their hit series Intervention, in which friends and family members try to convince loved ones to give up their crippling addictions.

In an interview with National Review Online, Senate minority whip Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.) explains that even at the height of national concern over the country’s debt and deficit problem, Democratic negotiators are insisting that additional spending measures be included in a deal to increase the debt limit.

In discussions this week, Kyl says, Democrats proposed extending unemployment insurance for another 99 weeks at a cost of $43 billion. In addition, they requested another $10 billion to spend on research projects overseen by the National Institutes of Health. Democrats have not, Kyl says, offered to offset the new spending with additional cuts.

These measures come on top of the increased spending Democrats proposed in negotiations led by Vice President Joe Biden, which included a $33 billion increase in Pell Grant funding and $27 billion — a number Kyl says was never explained — for the so-called “doc fix” to restore Medicare payments to physicians.

Another point of contention in the talks, Kyl explains, is that roughly 75 percent of the “savings” proposed in non-health-care mandatory spending are achieved through revenue mechanisms such as fee increases, which technically aren’t classified as tax hikes, but certainly highlight the Democrats’ fundamental unwillingness to reduce spending. Kyl says at this point he can identify only about $55 billion in actual reductions to federal spending.

When it comes to health care, Kyl says that even the modest savings introduced in the Biden talks, primarily of the “waste, fraud, and abuse” variety — all of it outlined by President Obama in his budget “framework” speech — have since been taken off the table. Republicans can “buy them back,” Kyl explains, if they agree to match them dollar-for-dollar with tax increases. “But we’re just not going to do that,” he says. This is why the top-line figure agreed to in the Biden talks — about $2 trillion — has since shrunk to less than $1.4 trillion. Kyl predicts that as the deal stands, the Congressional Budget Office would score only about $1 trillion of actual savings.

Negotiators are meeting today at the White House. Kyl says he expects the White House will continue to press Republicans to “buy back” health-care savings with tax increases (which isn’t going to happen) and agree to a global “deficit trigger” that would impose automatic spending and tax increases if Congress fails to meet certain targets. This too, Kyl says, is a non-starter with the GOP. He holds out hope that some agreement can be reached on a number for an overall ten-year deficit target and an appropriate enforcement mechanism that does not include tax increases, which continue to be a stumbling block at every turn.

— Andrew Stiles is a 2011 Franklin fellow.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece has been amended since its original posting.

Andrew StilesAndrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...

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