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Senate Republicans Hold the Line on Spending

by Nan Swift / /

Senate Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), held off a bloated Fiscal Year 2014 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill yesterday with a 54-43 cloture vote. The defeat of the Senate THUD appropriations bill comes only a day after the House version was unceremoniously yanked from the floor as support for the spending measure dwindled.

Taxpayers everywhere should be much relieved to see the THUD bill grind to a halt. Operating under the strange (and false) impression that the Budget Control Act (BCA) isn’t the law of the land, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) has been blithely appropriating far above the $967 billion discretionary spending limits imposed by the sequester, as reported in the TheHill.com:

The Senate Appropriations Committee will write fiscal 2014 bills according to the top-line discretionary spending level in the Senate and White House budgets, ignoring the sequester cuts in current law.

By crafting bills at the $1.058 trillion level set by the Obama and Senate budgets, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) is setting the stage for a showdown with the House, which intends to use the $966 billion level set by sequestration.

 National Taxpayers Union issued a strongly-worded vote alert urging Senators to oppose the bill early last week, explaining:

Weighing in at a staggering $54 billion, S. 1243 is $2.4 billion more than the President’s request, $10 billion beyond the House version of the bill, and $2.3 billion over FY13 pre-sequester spending levels. Taxpayers are the ultimate victims when the Senate persists in ignoring the realities of sequestration and the limits imposed by the Budget Control Act. By funding 302(b) allocation levels for discretionary spending at $1.058 trillion, the Senate makes it that much harder for appropriation bills to ever move through normal order.

We also went on to point out one missed opportunity for taxpayer savings after another:

  • $3.15 billion for Community Development Block Grants, $350 million more than the President requested
  • $250 million for the Choice Neighborhoods Program, $130 million over Fiscal Year 2013 levels
  • $100 million in grants for ludicrous high-speed rail projects
  • Increases to Transit Formula and Airport Improvement Grants
  • No reforms to Essential Air Service or Amtrak – both money-losing ventures that taxpayers shouldn’t be propping up

Only a day before the Senate’s THUD bill went belly-up due to its out-of-control, unrealistic spending, TheHill.com reported that House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY), “hinted that a vote on the [House THUD bill] was scrapped because leaders didn’t have the votes to support the deep cuts he was directed to write.”

Given the fact that earlier this spring House Republicans supported the $967 billion discretionary spending cap enshrined in the House budget in accordance with the BCA, and a Senate THUD bill that spent far more couldn’t garner the 60 votes needed for cloture, this seems to be more a matter of misappropriated priorities than a case of too many “deep cuts.” Instead of adhering to the separate defense and non-defense discretionary spending caps imposed by the BCA  - and sticking with across the board spending restraint – House appropriators shuffled the deck chairs in other areas to pay for significant plus-ups on the defense side to keep all the appropriations bills under the total cap.

When viewed in light of the profound fiscal challenges we face, legislators should be looking for savings everywhere and favored projects shouldn’t escape scrutiny, especially when there is plenty of room to save across the budget on both the defense and non-defense sides.

Sadly, for taxpayers, legislators might be forgetting that the Budget Control Act and sequestration are about slowing the growth of spending, not the “draconian” spending cuts we hear about from big government proponents. Legislators in both houses are starting to look for a way out from under the law that is reining in their profligate tendencies.  

House Appropriations Chairman Rogers went on:

“With this action, the House has declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted just three months ago,” Rogers said. “Thus, I believe that the House has made its choice: sequestration — and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts — must be brought to an end. And, it is also clear that the higher funding levels advocated by the Senate are also simply not achievable in this Congress.”

Across the Capitol in the Senate, it looks more and more likely Majority Leader Reid will push for a sequester replacement bill as soon as September.

For supporters of less spending and less government, the dual defeat of two major spending bills draws a clear outline of the next big battle and highlights what our priority should be moving forward: hold the line on BCA caps and sequester-level funding, hold the line on spending overall.

Luckily for taxpayers, Senator McConnell has proven that he can. As taxpayers look ahead, we shouldn’t just hope the Senator can do it again, we need to work hard to help make sure all our legislators remain focused on these vital tasks.