Last month, Congress passed, and President Obama signed, a $787 billion stimulus package. In that context, it seems difficult to argue that $20 billion in government spending could make or break a $14.2 trillion economy in crisis. But that argument is being made, and it is coming from surprising quarters.
“There are a lot of Republicans up on Capitol Hill right now who are calling for a spending freeze in the middle of a recession/depression,” New York Times columnist David Brooks said Sunday on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. “That is insane.”
Is it, though? In place of Democrats’ $410 billion omnibus spending package, which includes roughly 8,500 earmarks and an eight-percent increase in discretionary spending, Republicans have backed a freeze in domestic discretionary government spending at last year’s levels. This would result in something closer to a $390 billion omnibus spending package.
House Republicans were the first to advocate and vote for a spending freeze. But even after their measure failed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) threatened something very similar. When Senate Democrats failed to pass the omnibus last Thursday, she wanted to pass a continuing resolution with numbers not unlike the Republicans’. This became the subject of a Thursday night fight she had with Senate Democratic leaders.
Today, I asked Rep. Mike Pence (R., Ind.) what he thought of being called a crazy man. The chairman of the House Republican Caucus, whose “Spending Freeze” admonitions had filled my inbox, said of the omnibus, “I thought we were just funding the government. I didn’t think this was Stimulus II . . . The omnibus bill has not been touted as a Keynesian means of stimulating the economy, it’s just being brought forward as finishing last year’s business.”
This is not a debate over the future of the GOP — it is a debate over saving about $17 billion. Are those who want to do so really “insane?”