Congress Must Join the President in Cutting Spending

Congress Must Join the President in Cutting Spending
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Congress Must Join the President in Cutting Spending
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
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Recently, the Congressional Budget Office released a report on the fiscal state of the union. Its findings should sound alarms in Washington. Annual deficits are on the verge of exceeding $1 trillion each year for the foreseeable future, and interest payments on the national debt are projected to exceed military spending by 2025. The national debt nearly doubled under the prior administration, and is now over $22 trillion. Unfortunately, too many lawmakers on Capitol Hill don’t see this as a reason for caution. They simply cannot admit that Washington has a spending problem and they have not worked with President Trump to address it. 

This level of borrowing is unsustainable, and is one of the largest threats to our nation’s economic future. Even so, some members are already calling for another budget deal to allow Congress to exceed discretionary spending caps currently set in law. This would be bad deal for taxpayers. The Trump administration has a better plan.

Discretionary spending is money controlled through the annual appropriations process in Congress (as contrasted with “mandatory spending” such as Medicare and Social Security, which fall outside the normal budget process). This discretionary spending represents 30 percent of total spending. For nearly a decade, the Budget Control Act of 2011 has imposed caps on this spending. Given that much of the current federal deficit in the near term consists of this discretionary spending, capping its growth is a critical element in the effort to rein in government spending.

Congress has enacted three consecutive deals to raise these spending caps. The last one increased spending levels for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 by nearly $300 billion, pouring money into wasteful programs that we know don’t work.  In each of these deals, Democrats in Congress held defense spending increases hostage for increases in domestic spending.  We should expect more of the same from Democrats this year. 

In the coming weeks, the president will send his third budget to Capitol Hill. Once again, it will present a clear road map for a more fiscally responsible future -- if Congress chooses to follow it. This budget will reflect the administration’s continued commitment to defending our nation and addressing threats to our national security, such as terrorists abroad and criminal illegal aliens running through our southern border. Making America safe and secure is the administration’s top priority and the president’s budget will reflect that.

However, the budget will provide these investments while adhering to the spending caps already set in law. Additional needed defense resources will be designated as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds, which are not subject to the spending caps.

Fiscal conservatives may feel uncomfortable using OCO in this way. Yet, as long as Congressional Democrats insist on demanding more social spending in exchange for continuing to fund defense spending, expanding the use of OCO funds remains the administration’s only fiscally responsible option in meeting national security needs while avoiding yet another increase to the spending caps.

Recognizing the importance of controlling excessive spending, President Trump directed federal agencies to identify how they can cut a nickel out of every dollar they spend. Hard-working American families make these sorts of tough decisions every day. The president believes Washington should be no different. The president’s 2020 budget will meet the target of a 5 percent reduction to non-defense discretionary spending, by means of one of the largest spending reductions in history. Within these constrained levels, agencies will still be able to provide investments in key national priorities.

The president came to Washington with a sound understanding of desperate spending problem in Washington. His budgets reflect that. Time and again, Congress has ignored presidential cost-saving recommendations and plowed ahead with irresponsible budgets that increase both spending and the size of government. This needs to stop.

It is time for Congress to join the president in his commitment to cutting spending, reducing bloated deficits, and getting our national debt under control. America’s future generations are depending on them. 

Russ Vought is the acting director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.

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