Ross Kaminsky leads the lineup this morning with a thoughtful piece on Rep. Paul Ryan’s and Sen. Patty Murray’s budget deal. Allow me to voice my dissent.
Kaminsky asks in his headline “A bad deal compared to what?” The answer is: current levels of sequester spending. Here’s the Wall Street Journal with a distilled outline of the plan:
In the interest of achieving the simple goal of keeping the government funded, the two parties staked out a narrow slice of common ground—a set of fee increases and spending cuts in future years that allowed a modest increase in spending in the next two years. But neither party had to swallow hard to accept something it opposed; neither claimed any big policy trophies.
The agreement would boost discretionary spending for most domestic and defense programs to $1.012 trillion in the current fiscal year, compared to the $967 billion in spending under current law, after the sequester cuts were to take effect in January. Spending would be $1.014 trillion in the year that starts next Oct. 1.
Ryan-Murray trades a lower level of spending in the here and now—the sequester—for a higher level of spending with promises of cuts and more revenue in the future. This isn’t just kicking the can down the road. It’s picking up the can, placing it further back on the road, and then promising to kick it at some point in the future.
This deal is the answer to a question that nobody outside of Washington is asking: What are we going to do to mitigate the damage of sequestration? Sounding like a voiceover artist in an unctuous spa commercial, the media has been relentless in its calls for “sequester relief,” “sequester alleviation,” “easing the sequester”—all over a set of measly cuts, mostly applied to the rate of projected spending increases, that have had little to no effect on the greater economy.
Sequestration has, however, made a difference in government spending. When leftists smirk and note that, as a matter of fact you philistine right-wingers, the deficit is projected to fall and not rise, they’re correct, and the primary reason for that decrease is sequestration. The sequester is flawed and imprecise. But it’s also the first serious deficit reduction we’ve had in the age of Obama. And best of all, it’s automatic; as long as Republicans control the House, the cuts will come.
Ross admits that undoing the sequester is “a high price to pay for the deal” and is skeptical that sequester cuts will remain in place after the initial two years of spending increases. The question, then, is whether the goodies the GOP gets in Ryan-Murray—pension reform and ending unemployment benefits—are worth the price of ending sequestration and the Democrats’ ludicrous pound of flesh in the form of increased airline taxes *clears throat* excuse me, fees. For Ross, the answer is yes. For me, the answer is no. Ross notes that we have “a Senate run by Harry Reid and a White House occupied by the most committed and radical leftist in American presidential history.” Why, then, should we trust them to manage the deficit in the future? Better to let the unmanned ax of the sequester do its work then hand a politician a pair of scissors in exchange for an IOU.
If congressional Republicans are so timorous about another round of budget negotiations, then pass a budget that freezes spending at sequester levels. Let the Democrats flail and moan and—heaven forbid—shut down the government. That might sound like a pretty minimal definition of progress, but it would still spend less over the next two years than Ryan-Murray.