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It's Time to Throw Out Obama's Spending Levels

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., met with the Republican conference last week to make a pitch on the shape of this year’s House budget. Ryan’s proposal would include $30 billion in new spending authority above the Budget Control Act (BCA)’s post-sequester levels for discretionary programs in 2017.

Ryan told his colleagues that the new spending authority he wants as part of the House’s budget is only $3 billion higher than the total level of spending in last December’s omnibus spending bill ($1.067 trillion in 2016 compared to $1.070 trillion in 2017). Furthermore, of the $3 billion difference, $2.97 billion of the increase would go to defense.

This is an extremely misleading argument.

The $3 billion comparison that Ryan is referring to assumes that House conservatives have embraced the Boehner-Obama spending deal. But the spending deal, which suspends the debt limit for the remainder of president’s second term, received support from only 79 Republicans—including Ryan and the current House Republican leadership.
Comparing the Boehner-Obama spending level for 2016 with the Boehner-Obama spending level for 2017—as Ryan does to arrive at the $3 billion figure—is a red herring.

Furthermore, the $1.070 trillion in new discretionary spending authority for 2017 is $30 billion higher than the Budget Control Act’s spending level and $57 billion higher than the budget that Congress agreed to in May.

What’s even more astounding is that Ryan is advocating that the House adopt the same level of discretionary spending that Obama requested in his final budget. That deal also increased discretionary spending limits by $30 billion in 2017.

Why is House Republican leadership so content with the spending levels from the Boehner-Obama agreement and the president’s final budget?

The argument is that this is the price of “regular order,” where all 12 appropriations bills are enacted with a handful of conservative policy victories. Experience suggests that this won’t play out as intended.

First of all, in each presidential election year occurring in the last 40 years, 75 percent of the time, the appropriations process ends with either a continuing resolution or an omnibus.
This makes sense, given that both the majority and minority might rather wait to see how the election plays out before negotiating the final spending deal. Secondly, by conceding on the spending from the beginning, conservatives have lost an important negotiating position on policy riders, as was the case with last year’s omnibus.

If the House adopts the Boehner-Obama levels, Congress is setting itself up to bust the discretionary spending caps again next year, as both defense and non-defense discretionary spending will be reduced under current law relative to Ryan’s and Obama’s proposal.

In honor of pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, my advice to conservative members of Congress is to keep your eye on the ball and don’t fall for the speaker’s one-sided math.

Our next budget should abandon arbitrary limits on defense and non-defense spending and replace them with an aggregate limit on discretionary spending in 2017, as promised with last year’s budget.

Congress should then act on their budget by passing appropriations bills that reflect the priorities of the American people—not bills that provide preference to the president or the minority party in Congress.

It is time that Congress hold the administration accountable by providing fewer resources to agencies that engage in unlawful activities or overly expansive power grabs.

Conservatives in Congress should use this opportunity to show Americans where they are different from the president, which should include writing a budget that puts a down payment on reducing the size and scope of government.