Forget about a budget. Again.
Rather than soberly debate the merits of individual government programs and fund (or defund) them appropriately, Congress is widely expected to pass — after only perfunctory debate — an omnibus spending bill that would fund government through Sept. 30. If recent history is any indication, the omnibus will fail the test of fiscal responsibility.
With the national debt quickly approaching $20 trillion, taxpayers deserve better. And certainly, lawmakers can do better. Instead of embracing the red-ink-stained status quo, Congress should prioritize our national defense and eliminate wasteful and outdated domestic programs.
Here are some guideposts to tell if Congress is trying to exercise any kind of meaningful spending discipline. The overall discretionary funding level should revert to the Budget Control Act level. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 raised the fiscal year 2017 discretionary spending limit by $30 billion. It was the fifth time Congress has raised Budget Control Act caps since its enactment in 2011. If lawmakers don’t take action to reduce spending now, they’ll have to lift the caps yet again.
The upcoming spending debate gives lawmakers a chance to reaffirm their commitment to correcting the nation’s unsustainable fiscal course. They should stick to the 2017 spending limit of $1.04 trillion. It’s readily doable. The Heritage Foundation’s Blueprint for Balance: A Federal Budget for 2018 recommends $87 billion in cuts that could be implemented this year.
Defense funding should be increased as needed, but fully offset by cuts to domestic programs. Top Brass and independent assessments agree: military readiness is dangerously low due to chronic underfunding, forced reductions, and the prolonged, high tempo of combat operations. Adequately funding national defense programs should be the primary objective of Congress in the upcoming spending battle. Inadequate and uncertain funding is particularly devastating for our military because it stops new initiatives in their tracks, derails innovative solutions and creates huge, long-term problems for equipment programs.
Congress should eliminate the defense funding firewall and approve the President’s request of an additional $30 billion in defense spending this year. The increased military funding should be fully offset by cuts to domestic programs, with overall discretionary appropriations remaining at $1.04 trillion. Having a strong national defense will deter adversaries, reducing the risk that America will find itself facing a large-scale war.
Policy riders are a key component of appropriations bills. While it is true that President Trump can move a conservative agenda forward through executive orders and actions, there is a limit to the scope of these powers. For this reason, policy riders remain an important part of the appropriations process. Congress should continue to use spending debates as an opportunity to promote conservative policy proposals. The Blueprint for Balance lays out numerous policy riders that should be a component of any conservative spending bill enacted in 2017.
It is not too late to cut spending this year. Some may argue that it is too late in the year to make discretionary cuts in fiscal year 2017 spending. But it’s never too late (or too soon) to eliminate wasteful or unnecessary spending. The national debt currently hovers around $20 trillion. With self-proclaimed deficit hawks controlling Congress and the White House, when will there be a better opportunity to make spending cuts and reshape the federal bureaucracy?
Solving America's fiscal challenges requires adult decision-making. And the longer those decisions are put off, the harder it becomes to get spending under control. Taking decisive action to curb discretionary spending and bad policies now is critical to building credibility for tackling the more daunting challenge of entitlement reform.
Congress must act now to bolster our military and put the budget back on a path to balance.
This piece originally appeared in The Hill on 4/24/17