The good news is that Congress recently came together in a bipartisan manner to fund the government with another stopgap spending bill that extends funding through March 23.

The bad news is that it was literally a spending bill — the only reason it received bipartisan support was because a majority agreed to just spend more. They agreed to raise military spending to $700 billion and domestic spending to $591 billion in the forthcoming omnibus spending bill, which will fund government for the next two years if it passes.

This gives both parties the chance to simply dole out money to their favorite causes without worrying about the deficit or the debt, which is what most of them really want.

While it would be nice to see Congress actually pass a full two-year budget for a change — instead of muddling through on endless continuing resolutions — that success will be muted if all they can agree to is more spending. In essence, Congress will be abandoning its duty to the American people to govern responsibly by adding further to already enormous deficits. They’ll be shirking hard decisions that they should be facing head on and instead placing them on the shoulders of future generations.

Rather than taking the easy way out, Congress should be refocusing its energies toward a concerted, bipartisan effort to reduce the deficit. In order to truly begin to reduce the deficit, Congress would have to take a hard look at two areas that each party wants to ignore: defense spending and entitlement programs.

Republicans generally claim to support reforming entitlement programs, but rarely actually do it when they have the chance. George W. Bush’s attempt to reform Social Security didn’t get enough support to go anywhere, and Donald Trump has consistently evaded the idea all together. Democrats have similarly whiffed on reducing defense spending, preferring instead to pass new domestic initiatives and dodge the issue entirely.


The Trump administration, meanwhile, has released its budget blueprint, which although it proposes significant cuts in domestic spending increases spending overall and balloons the deficit. The cuts are focused not on entitlement programs, but instead largely on non-defense discretionary spending, while Trump pours more money in to defense spending and transportation. As with any president’s budget proposal, there is little chance this one will get enacted into law: many of the cuts Trump proposes are to popular programs, which will be fought tooth and nail by Congress.

The GOP’s willingness to work with the Democrats to increase spending shows that they’re not really the party of fiscal responsibility. Even if one were willing to accept the supply-side argument that tax cuts will help to grow the economy and thereby increase revenue rather than decrease it, it’s completely irresponsible to spend that increase before it even comes in. Republicans continue to prove that their claim to be fiscally responsible is less a governing principle and more of a convenient campaign slogan that they completely abandon after the election.

It’s not enough for Republicans to say they’re going to cut spending — when they’re in power, they have to actually do it. Spending slightly less than the Democrats doesn’t count either, nor does slowing the rate of increase. If they want to really be the party of fiscal responsibility, they’ll have to show a willingness to actually reduce spending in ways that will be painful in the short term.

Before he entered leadership, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was known for his bold ideas to cut spending. While they engendered scorn and derision from Democrats, they were real, substantive proposals to reduce the deficit. Unfortunately, since becoming speaker, we’ve seen him abandon those grandiose plans in favor of maintaining the status quo. That’s not real leadership, but it’s not too late for Ryan, McConnell, and the White House.

If they’re able to shepherd this spending plan through Congress, flawed as it is, it will buy them some relief. Once it passes, it will be difficult for members to use fiscal crises — whether that’s a possible shutdown or the debt ceiling — to hold the rest of the government hostage. That could minimize extremist voices on both the right and the left, and make it easier for Congress to get things done in other areas.

If they’re focused and productive, the two parties might be able to get together and do something worthwhile, rather than just engaging in nonstop partisan bickering. If they can, some good may yet come out of this bad deal.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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