Michael D. Tanner
Once again, we are reminded that “bipartisan” is
Washington-speak for “Hang on to your wallet.”
Democrats, Republicans, and the Trump administration have
reached a bipartisan agreement to fund the government for the rest
of the fiscal year. Much of the media is trumpeting the agreement
as proof that “both sides can work together.” Sure they can … if
the goal is to further fleece the taxpayer.
This budget deal should
once and for all put an end to the narrative that President Trump
is different because ‘he fights.’
Republicans wanted more spending for defense. Democrats wanted
more spending for domestic programs. The bipartisan answer: more
spending for everything. The agreement, which could be voted on as
early as today, includes a roughly $25 billion increase in defense
spending (including both the base defense budget and overseas
contingency spending). That represents a 3.5 percent hike over
fiscal year 2016.
The case for a big hike in defense is dubious, but even more
troubling is some $38 billion in other spending, including
significant hikes in domestic discretionary spending. President
Trump might have talked about defunding wasteful government
agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts, the National
Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting, the National Institutes of Health, and the
Appalachian Regional Commission, but this agreement actually
increases spending for them. The budget agreement even
tosses in additional spending for “green energy” programs. There
are also the usual increases in spending for national parks,
disaster relief, global food aid, and so forth. Oh yes, the budget
also extends subsidies to insurance companies under Obamacare. And,
of course, there is no effort in this bill to reform entitlement
Taken all together, the $1.1 trillion spending agreement
increases federal spending by $63 billion over last year. Yay,
That might not seem like a lot, but we are at a point where
every additional drop of red ink counts. Last month, the
Congressional Budget Office warned that the national debt will
double as a share of the national economy by mid century.
Trillion-dollar budget deficits are expected to return within the
decade. Interest payments on the debt will rise from $270 billion
in 2017 to $768 billion in 2027. Our total indebtedness, including
the unfunded liabilities of programs such as Social Security and
Medicare, approaches $100 trillion.
There will be a tendency to blame this monument to red ink on
Paul Ryan and the congressional Republican leadership. They
certainly deserve their share. After all, they negotiated this
dog’s breakfast. They own it. Day by day, Republicans in Congress
prove that they have no intention of shrinking the size or cost of
However, we shouldn’t let the president off the hook, either.
The Trump administration was fully vested in this outcome. In fact,
the president’s budget director described the budget agreement as
“a solid deal.”
The administration was desperate to avoid the optics of a
government shutdown, and President Trump has never cared about
deficits or the level of government spending. Still, this budget
deal should once and for all put an end to the narrative that
President Trump is different because “he fights.” This is a
president who cares much more about “winning” than about what he
Inevitably, we will be told that the next budget fight will be
different. Already President Trump has tweeted a threat to shut
down the government if he doesn’t get his way … in September.
Don’t count on it.
Meanwhile, he is promising to introduce his $1 trillion plan for
increased infrastructure spending within the next month. Democrats
are already suggesting that that could be the sort of bipartisan
proposal they could work with. Yep, more bipartisanship.
Funny, I don’t feel like celebrating.
Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author
of Going for Broke: Deficits, Debt, and the Entitlement
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