Congress is back from its Fourth of July recess and high on its “to-do” list are the annual appropriations bills, which are the legislative vehicles Congress uses to spend your money. Back in 2011, taxpayers scored a small, but important victory when the Budget Control Act (BCA) was enacted. This law established spending caps for ten years and created an enforcement mechanism known as the “sequester” to try to impose budget discipline on recalcitrant lawmakers. Unfortunately, the victory could be short-lived as big-spenders are fighting back trying to eviscerate the BCA.
At the center of the budget battle is Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who along with other big-government proponents on the Committee, recently approved an appropriations blueprint that would allow for $1.06 trillion in discretionary spending. This figure is a whopping 9.4 percent increase over the $967 billion cap established by the BCA.
The House, meanwhile, has so far agreed to stick to the 2014 BCA cap, but this task will be much tougher because of Mikulski, who is actively recruiting Republicans to help her “find a solution to sequester.” To some, it seems, modest fiscal restraint is a serious national problem.
Congress should embrace the reasonable caps set forth by BCA, not reject them. While doing so would not come close to fixing our serious fiscal problems, it would show a modicum of discipline on the part of Congress. Then, it can focus attention on mandatory spending, which is the primary cause of our long term debt. Mandatory spending – mostly Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – is projected to be approximately $2.21 trillion in 2014 and will increase rapidly in successive years unless reined in by Congress.
Reforming entitlement programs will be no easy task, but before Congress can run it must first demonstrate it knows how to walk. It should hold the line on the discretionary spending cap and then begin a serious conversation about the staggering impending debt associated with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. If it can’t even stick to the discretionary budget caps already established by law, taxpayers ought to be very, very worried about the long-term fiscal health of the nation.