A budget deal Republicans should reject

In recent days, as John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, and Harry Reid negotiated a budget deal behind closed doors, the prospect for mischief has been acute. Today this latest “gang” presented its handiwork to members of Congress. It is, indeed, mischievous.

According to this report, the deal would increase federal spending by $80 billion over two years. The spending increase would be shared evenly between domestic and military spending, as I understand it.

The debt ceiling would be suspended until March 2017. As Sen. Jeff Sessions says, this would “allow[] for approximately $1.5 trillion to be added to the debt, ensuring no further conversation about our debt course or any corresponding action to alter it” until 2017.

The current sequester would come to an end. In its place, we would get spending caps in 2024 and 2025 that supposedly offset the current spending increase.

This “spend now, promise to cut later” is the same tired trick that helped create our debt crisis. Current spending is real by definition; cuts a decade always turn out to be fictitious. No president and no Congress will ever feel bound by what their predecessors agreed to ten years earlier.

The deal makes some relatively small adjustments in the area of entitlements. It raids money from the social security retirement trust fund to shore up the disability benefits program, which is running out of money. In exchange, there is a bit of positive reform of the disability program aimed at reducing fraud and such.

Clearly, this deal represents a victory for President Obama and congressional Democrats. The administration is already expressing glee.

For Republicans interested in combating the debt and constraining government, the deal is a defeat. In essence, the Dems get a significant increase in spending in exchange for illusory cuts ten years from now.

John Boehner said he pushed for a deal because he doesn’t want the new House Speaker “to walk into a dirty barn full of you know what.” But the likely new Speaker, Paul Ryan, says that what actually “stinks” (his word) is the process by which the deal was reached. If you believe Ryan is sincere, then Boehner gave him something he doesn’t want.

As for Boehner’s view that the barn is dirty, it assumes the sequester stinks. In reality, the sequester is about the only significant positive accomplishment of Boehner’s tenure as Speaker.

The sequester constrained the federal government. As Kevin Williamson reminds us, it was instrumental in reducing federal spending from about 25 percent of GDP to about 20 percent of it.

Yes, the sequester has had a small adverse impact on the military. But with Obama holding the White House, Republicans were never going to get all they wanted on spending. The sequester is the one Obama-era compromise in which conservatives came out ahead on balance. That’s why Democrats are cheering its demise while most conservatives are, to one degree or another, unhappy.

Although much of the increase in defense spending brought about by this deal inevitably will result in waste, the military will benefit marginally. But the military could have endured the absence of a spending increase until the end of the Obama administration, which is only 15 months away.

I agree with Sen. Sessions that Congress should push back the debt ceiling deadline with a short-term measure and insist that any vote on spending caps or the debt ceiling be delayed until the House has chosen a new Speaker and, more importantly, “until there has been a full conversation among our conference and, most importantly, our voters.”

As Sessions concludes:

There is no urgency to pass a 2-year deal. GOP voters are entitled to have their representatives represent them – not act as opposing counsel, urging them to capitulate to the President’s demands. Whether it’s spending, debt, crime, immigration or trade it is time for us to start fighting for what our voters want – instead of demeaning their just concerns about the future of our country.

Speaker Boehner’s desire to “clean the barn” — by which I suspect he means gain revenge against the hard core conservatives in his caucus — isn’t reason enough to rush this deal through.