It is likely that the federal government will shut down at the end of this month. Republicans need to game out the post-shutdown battle, to figure out the most acceptable landing spot on appropriations for fiscal year 2024.
Although the House Freedom Caucus will not get all it wants, its members are fighting a just battle that will put downward pressure on the level of spending in any final appropriations deal.
As a preliminary matter, this is a good fight to have — good politically and good for the nation. Our federal government is projected to run up between $1.5 and $2 trillion in debt this year alone. The Congressional Budget Office projects that outlays this year will be $6.4 trillion with only $4.8 trillion in revenues.
To put this in perspective, outlays were only $3.5 trillion 10 years ago. Spending breached $6 trillion in the 2020 COVID-19 spending binge, and it has never returned to normal pre-COVID levels.
Elevated spending levels have put House Republican leadership in a box canyon. They are trapped between the Biden administration’s request of $6.9 trillion and the elevated levels that would be contained in a continuing resolution.
The Republican default position usually is to settle for a continuing resolution, kicking the proverbial can down the road. But that is not an option this year, because a continuing resolution would continue spending at the elevated post-COVID pandemic levels, well above $6 trillion for fiscal 2024. The Freedom Caucus will have to push this fight past shutdown to have any leverage at all.
The next few weeks should be interesting, because there is no appetite for the Freedom Caucus to support any level of spending that continues to grow government debt, let alone at COVID-era deficit levels. There are several policy-related battles mixed into this debate, but levels of spending will end up being the ground where this war is decided. No family can spend a few hundred thousand more than it takes in every year, yet our federal government is spending trillions more as a matter of routine.
As Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) argued on Sept. 12, “Spending is out of control. The federal government will spend two trillion more than it takes in this year to fund the very agencies and programs at war with the American people.”
Republicans have been vocally opposed to a laundry-list of Biden administration policies, yet they ignore the fact that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives retains the constitutional power of the purse. Roy is also right to make the case that Republicans cannot in good conscience fund a government that they complain has weaponized the Department of Justice against an opposition candidate for president. Furthermore, funding policies that are anathema to conservatism make no policy nor political sense.
So get ready for some fearmongering. Democrats and their allies in the mainstream media will accuse Republicans of destroying the government and the economy with a shutdown. But in truth, this would be a shutdown in name only. The Antideficiency Act allows core government functions to continue while the non-essential elements of the federal government are shuttered. Failure to pass appropriations bills will do nothing to stop our military from defending America.
The out-of-control spending by our federal government has become a national security issue that is a far greater threat to American citizens than the ugly fight we are witnessing in faraway Ukraine. Our nation is in debt to the tune of about $32 trillion. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) points out that the average debt for each U.S. citizen is $98,000. And Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) argues that “We need to control the runaway spending by this administration — and the budget fight this month is the time to do it.”
My former boss had a great plan that could be adopted during this debate. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) proposed “caps on total on-budget outlays that decrease by 5 percent each year which are enforceable by sequester” with an exemption for Social Security.
Although the demand for a Balanced Budget may seem unreasonable to those who live inside the Beltway, it makes sense to average Americans struggling with the high cost of groceries, gas and excessive taxes.
This fight is against the establishment of both parties, to force government to be responsive to the will of the people. A Gallup poll from early August showed a 19 percent approval and 78 percent disapproval rating for Congress. Excessive spending is a driving force of bad poll numbers.
The Freedom Caucus is right to hold the line on spending. And anything it can do to defund the far-left agenda of the Biden administration is an option that will both move the ball forward on good policy and push the budget closer to balance.
Brian Darling is former counsel to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
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