Senate leaders have reached an agreement on a two-year budget deal. The deal would raise the budget caps that were established by the Budget Control Act in 2011 by almost $300 billion over the next two years. It would also fund the government for the next month while the Appropriations Committee decides where to direct the money. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) says the deal is a “genuine breakthrough,” and Republican leadership appears to agree.
But this is a bad deal. It is a bad deal because it hikes domestic spending. It is a bad deal, as well, because it may end the chance for a conservative legislative achievement in 2018.
A two-year spending deal means Republicans probably won’t go to the trouble of passing a formal budget for 2019. That would mean no chance for a so-called reconciliation process that could allow them to enact meaningful legislation with only 50 votes in the Senate. If Republicans accept this deal and then forgo the reconciliation process, they will have given up their chance to pass a law without Democratic support, and measures such as easing the Obamacare regulations that will contribute to higher premiums in the coming years or reforming welfare will stand no chance of making it through Congress. With this deal, Republicans are hurting the chance to add to their ledger of accomplishments prior to November.
Then there is the price. While on its face the deal costs about $300 billion over the next two years, it likely will set a standard for future budget negotiations. That means its cost will be almost $1.5 trillion over the next decade. That is as expensive as tax reform.
Not all of the extra spending is ill advised. That the deal raises defense-spending caps by $160 billion is welcome news; the military has been painfully squeezed by the sequester, and restoring its funding to proper levels would be a significant achievement. To secure that money, however, Republicans had to dangle $128 billion in domestic spending.
And we are skeptical that the deal will include any meaningful budget offsets. Budget-cap agreements in the past have come with offsets that tend to manifest as accounting gimmicks rather than actual spending cuts. Even small changes in the future growth of entitlements would counteract the new spending in this bill, but there is no serious appetite for that within the GOP.
Republicans interested in passing major conservative reforms in 2018 — which could be the last chance for years, if Democrats succeed in taking the House later this year — should reject this deal and push for something better. Another year of unified Republican control of the elected branches of government in Washington is a terrible thing to waste.