Last week, a new unfortunate line was crossed in lawmakers’ making political games out of crucially serious budget decisions. The White House made headlines when it threatened to veto any Congressional budget legislation that “[fails to] support our recovery and enable sufficient investments in education, infrastructure, innovation and national security for our economy to compete in the future.” In other words, Obama has threatened to veto any budget agreements made by Congress that do not provide for more government spending along the lines of what he wants.
According to the Hill:
That language suggests the administration, like congressional Democrats, wants to use the conference to turn off the automatic spending cuts to domestic discretionary spending known as the sequester. The statements warned that average Americans would be hurt if Congress fails to restore some of these cuts.
If spending more is really the crux of Obama’s budget strategy, then it is quite sad indeed. Holding up the government budget process because you think the government is not spending enough is one of the less helpful things that can be done at a time when deficit reduction is important. Both sides should be able to make reasonable compromises to reduce spending and deal with the fiscal crisis.
Obama is not the only one that is being unreasonable with regard to the budget. For their part, House Republicans have a budget proposal that increases defense spending. At a time when the United States spends more money on its military than the next 14 highest nations combined, it is only temperate to make reductions to military spending when the federal deficit and debt pose a potential problem in the near-future. Blame-shifting over the sequester is an example that suggests both sides would prefer political points to practical solutions.
Another point that’s worth mentioning is Congressional Democrats’ desire to use the House-Senate budget conference to repeal the recently enacted sequestration cuts. Politicians in Washington rarely find the political willpower to make spending cuts of their own devices, and the fact is that the sequester is hardly the catastrophe it was promised to be.
The effects of the spending cuts on the economy have not even been impactful in the way many Keynesians warned it would:
The case for turning off the sequester, however, has been weakened by an economy, which has strengthened in the face of the cuts. The administration warned the economy would be severely weakened by the sequester, but unemployment has fallen in recent months as consumer confidence has gone higher.
The sequester is not perfect, but it should be lauded for its success in managing to impose at least some small amount of fiscal restraint. If Democrats consider the sequestration cuts to be too arbitrary, then they should find other more reasonable spending reductions that can be made in their place. But simply reversing the cuts and failing to replace them at all is irresponsible when the deficit is still quite high and the threat posed by interest payments and baby boomer retirement is significant in the years ahead.
There is $3.8 trillion of room for compromise for Republicans and Democrats to agree to. Obama’s rhetoric might make his position sound well-intentioned, but the approach of vetoing any efforts to reduce the deficit via spending restraint is a very ill-advised policy indeed. Similarly, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are ill-advised for continuing the political games and reactionary politics instead of seeking real solutions. Through their actions, Congress and the White House continue to propagate a growing fiscal crisis instead of offering real solutions.