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Heritage Foundation Experts: Short-Term Spending Resolution Puts Nation in Fiscal Danger

The Congressional race to pass a bill funding the government through December sets up the nation to bust budget caps, warn two scholars at the Heritage Foundation.

In The Hill earlier this month, Heritage president and former Sen. Jim DeMint and economist Paul Winfree argued Congress should have used this fall spending resolution to fix the nation’s fiscal direction, instead of postponing funding the government until December 11th, right before everyone returns home for the holidays.

“Deferring important decisions until the end of the year has become common practice for Congress,” they wrote.

Unfortunately, this allows leadership to use fast-approaching deadlines as leverage, cynically forcing members to either vote on a bill they have not read or risk blowing a deadline, thus causing the government to shut down, miss interest payments, or any other politically unacceptable outcome.

DeMint suggests looking at history to prove that pushing the spending resolution until the end of the year sets up busting the budget caps.

In mid-December, senators and congressmen are desperate to return home for the holidays, and are quick to rubber stamp another year of unsustainable spending on their way out the door. It’s been done before, and it’s going to be done in the future—until the American people demand it stop.

By pushing the funding resolution to mid-December, Senators show they are willing to risk conservative principles, Winfree argued earlier this month.

The latest indicator has been discussion of a “clean” three-month continuing resolution to keep the government open through December. Notwithstanding that so-called government shutdowns amount to little more than government slow-downs, GOP leadership may threaten the short-term CR is necessary to avoid another government “shutdown” and show the American people that “Republicans can govern.” But in reality, it’s an insidious maneuver, one that would ensure Congress continues lurching from crisis to crisis. This, in turn, will force members to pass something—anything—to avert these self-imposed crises. And that’s no way to do business.

“In reality, a three-month CR would be an abdication of real leadership—confirmation that GOP leadership really can’t govern,” Winfree added. “A short-term CR would lead inevitably to a budget deal that grows the size of government and eliminates the greatest recent success conservatives have made in limiting spending: the budget caps established under the 2011 Budget Control Act.”

 A short-term CR would set the next “cliff” for government funding back to December—precisely the time when the Treasury now estimates the nation will run up against the debt limit. Not insignificantly, this is also the time of year that members, itching to get back home for the holidays, and seem to be more prone to make bad decisions. The motive behind this “coincidence” of timing is as straight-forward as it is Machiavellian: it will allow leadership to compile a massive, last-minute bill and plop it in front of lawmakers at the 11th hour as a “take it or leave it” proposition. Rank-and-file members will face a Sophie’s choice:  either approve legislation they cannot possibly have read, much less debated and improved, or shoulder blame for both a government shutdown and the prospect of a default. How is that responsible “governing” in any meaningful sense of the word?

Winfree argued that historically when this situation plays out, Congress typically increases spending and taxes.

We’ve seen this play out several times before, most recently in 2013. That’s when the Bipartisan Budget Act, sometimes called Ryan-Murray, lifted the budget caps and slapped more taxes on the American people. Though sold as a conservative accomplishment, Ryan-Murray was no such thing.  It paid for over half of the $63 billion in new spending not through offsetting cuts elsewhere but with new and higher fees and taxes.

Winfree suggested that lawmakers are looking at a “Ryan-Murray 2.0.” He said that conservatives didn’t want a government shutdown, and to avoid that, Congress should reach a year long CR, which meets the budget caps set into law four years ago.

Funding government operations for a full year and upholding the budget caps passed by Congress is a much more responsible way to govern rather than forcing a last-minute bill before legislators and forcing them to choose between growing the size of government or the threat of political catastrophe. 

The spending resolution passed in the Senate Wednesday morning now goes to the House, and it funded Planned Parenthood – something the conservative base protested.

The spending resolution expires December 11, creating another government shutdown cliff right before Congress leaves for the holidays. Potentially, the December “omnibus” could bust the budget caps, raise the debt ceiling, fund amnesty, fund sanctuary cities, fund Iran deal, and fund Planned Parenthood.

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