Republicans Go to 'War' Over Cutting 1/1,825th of Federal Spending

Republicans Go to 'War' Over Cutting 1/1,825th of Federal Spending
December 17, 2013

Steve Stanek

Steve Stanek (sstanek@heartland.org) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)

Let's put this Paul Ryan-Patty Murray federal budget deal in perspective. It's a deal that some pundits say has sparked "war" between the Republican grassroots and Republican establishment leaders.

The deal amounts to saving two days of federal spending over the next decade. A sliver of a sliver of savings. And that’s assuming future Congresses follow through on today’s promises, something that almost never happens because no Congress can force a future Congress to do anything.

Federal spending totaled $3.5 trillion in fiscal 2013 and would go to $3.6 trillion in 2014 (President Obama wants nearly $3.8 trillion of spending), up more than 40 percent since 2002 even after adjusting for inflation. Just for fun, I’m going to pick up the link for this statistic from the Heritage Foundation, one of the big targets of Republican establishment wrath.

There are 365 days in a year. With spending of approximately $3.6 trillion, the government spends approximately $10 billion a day. The Ryan-Murray deal says to let discretionary spending rise $63 billion over the next couple of years. Over the next 10 years they’d cut it to generate a net savings of $22.5 billion. That totals approximately two days of federal spending.

Ten years times 365 days in a year equals 3,650 days. Divide by two days and we arrive at 1,825. So Ryan-Murray would save 1/1,825th of federal spending over a decade at current rates of spending.

The deal overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives a few days ago and could soon be okayed in the Senate. House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican Party establishment leaders are lashing out at conservatives and Tea Party types who oppose the deal. (“They are not fighting for conservative policy. They are fighting to expand their lists, raise more money and grow their organizations, and they are using you to do it. It’s ridiculous," Boehner told The New York Times, which, as we all know, has long been a conservative and Tea Party tool.)

For most of the years since 2002, when federal spending went on its 40 percent inflation-adjusted increase, a self-described compassionate conservative Republican named George W. Bush occupied the White House, and in some of those Bush years Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate. Spending under this compassionately “conservative” regime climbed much faster than it has under the “progressive” regime of Democrat Barack H. Obama. In fact, spending under Bush climbed more than under any president since Lyndon Baines Johnson, who bequeathed the nation a huge escalation in the Vietnam War (we lost), Medicare (it’s insolvent), and the War on Poverty (we’re losing).

Paul Ryan, the supposed “fiscal hawk” Republican budget negotiator, voted for the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program that Bush foisted on the nation shortly before he left office – a program that polls showed Americans overwhelmingly opposed. Ryan supported Bush’s huge Medicare expansion for prescription drugs – the largest entitlement increase since Medicare was created in the 1960s, and the first to be done without one penny of revenue designated to pay for it. He supported Bush’s failed economic stimulus spending. Ryan supported virtually all the Bush-era spending increases.

Cutting 1/1,825th of federal spending over a decade doesn’t sound like much of a cut. Combine this paltry promise with the recent history of federal spending under a Republican president who, for a time, also enjoyed Republicans in charge of the House and the Senate and who enjoyed Republicans in charge of the House for most of his term. Now Republican leaders are telling us a promise to cut two days of federal spending over a decade -- a promise future lawmakers do not have to follow -- is a breakthrough.

Some people actually believe in limiting the size and power of government. Republican leaders say they believe in it. When is the last time they acted like it? The Republican base is angry that Republican establishment leaders don't act like it. The leaders are angry that the Republican base wants them to act like it.

Who's more honorable? Those who expect people to act on their professed beliefs? Or those who profess beliefs but do not act on them?

Steve Stanek

Steve Stanek (sstanek@heartland.org) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)