Republicans are fond of issuing proposals setting forth things they say they want to do. Back in 1994, when they were trying to take over the House for the first time in 40 years, it was the “Contract with America.” When the Democrats controlled the House in 2010, the Republican minority on the House Budget Committee introduced their alternative to the Democrats’ fiscal year 2010 budget called “The Path to American Prosperity.” Just before the 2010 congressional elections, House Republicans released their “Pledge to America.” Now, to introduce their fiscal year 2013 budget, House Republicans have issued “The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal.”
But we have been down this Republican path before. This blueprint, although it claims to be “committed to the timeless principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution — liberty, limited government, and equality under the rule of law” — is just a Republican path to the welfare/warfare state instead of a Democratic one.
According to the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, the president must annually submit a budget to Congress by the first Monday in February. Because the government’s fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30, the budget submitted in February is actually for the next fiscal year that begins in October. Within six weeks of the president’s submitting his budget request, congressional committees are required by the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 to submit their “views and estimates” of federal spending and revenues to the House and Senate budget committees. The budget committees hold hearings on the president’s budget and then draft and report a concurrent resolution on the budget. Action on the concurrent resolution is supposed to be completed by April 15. It is only then that appropriation bills are enacted.
On March 20, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) — with much fanfare — unveiled a preview of the House Budget Committee’s fiscal year 2013 budget titled “The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal.” On March 23, he introduced H. CON. RES. 112 to establish “the budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2013” and set forth “appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2014 through 2022.” A report (112–421) to accompany this resolution was also released.
The purposed Republican budget has seven “titles,” beginning with recommended levels and amounts of total spending and for each of 21 numbered budget “functions”:
050 National Defense 150 International Relations 250 General Science, Space, and Technology 270 Energy 300 Natural Resources and Environment 350 Agriculture 370 Commerce and Housing Credit 400 Transportation 450 Community and Regional Development 500 Education, Training, Employment, and Social Services 550 Health 570 Medicare 600 Income Security 650 Social Security 700 Veterans Benefits and Services 750 Administration of Justice 800 General Government 900 Net Interest 920 Allowances 950 Undistributed Offsetting Receipts 970 Global War on Terrorism and Related Activities
This title occupies more than half of the 68 pages of the budget resolution.
Title II sets forth reconciliation instructions for six committees (Agriculture, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, the Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform, and Ways and Means) to reduce the federal deficit by certain amounts.
Title III lists recommended budget levels for fiscal years 2030, 2040, and 2050 as a percent of GDP with respect to federal revenues, budget outlays, deficits, and debt held by the public.
Title IV authorizes the chair of the House Committee on the Budget to create a reserve fund for the budgetary effects of any legislation repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 and for legislation concerning sustainable growth rate of the Medicare program, revenue measures, rural counties and schools, and transportation.
Title V, which has ten sections, is a technical title that covers House legislation requiring advance appropriations, the creation of more reserve funds, disqualifying measures from adjustments that increase the federal deficit, legislation reported out of committee that will increase spending, an explanatory statement on administrative expenses of the Social Security Administration and the Postal Service, adjusting allocations and aggregates for certain legislation, the transfer of funds to the Highway Trust Fund, and allocations for overseas contingency operations and the global war on terrorism.
Title VI is a policy statement on Medicare reform, Social Security, and deficit reduction through the cancellation of unobligated balances, and the reduction of unnecessary and wasteful spending.
Title VII expresses the sense of the House on the importance of child-support enforcement.
The first problem with the Republican budget is that it is fiscally irresponsible. Why would Republicans, who love to talk about limited government, balanced budgets, and fiscal conservatism, even introduce a budget that wasn’t balanced? This Republican budget posits a deficit of $833 billion for fiscal year 2013, which, if history is any indication, will end up being significantly higher. After the recent debt-limit debacle in which the debt limit was ultimately raised from $15.194 trillion to $16.394 trillion on January 30 of this year, one would think that Republicans were opposed to raising the debt limit. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are “the appropriate levels of the public debt” as found on page 5 of the Republicans’ “Path to Prosperity Budget”:
Fiscal year 2013: $17,072,810,000,000. Fiscal year 2014: $17,769,762,000,000. Fiscal year 2015: $18,277,348,000,000. Fiscal year 2016: $18,752,806,000,000. Fiscal year 2017: $19,216,661,000,000. Fiscal year 2018: $19,676,545,000,000. Fiscal year 2019: $20,168,534,000,000. Fiscal year 2020: $20,657,588,000,000. Fiscal year 2021: $21,121,620,000,000. Fiscal year 2022: $21,627,396,000,000.
None of that should be of any surprise to anyone. Under eight years of a Republican president, and with the help of a majority-Republican Congress for more than half of that time, the federal budget increased from $2 trillion in fiscal year 2002 (Bush’s first budget) to $3.1 trillion in fiscal year 2009 (Bush’s last budget). Bush also raised the debt ceiling four times and doubled the national debt.
The second problem with the Republican budget is that most of the numbers in it are not only absolutely meaningless; they are downright deceptive. The budget is full of figures regarding revenues, budget authority, budget outlays, budget deficits, and the debt limit for fiscal years 2013 to 2022. There are even recommended budget levels as a percentage of gross national product for revenues, outlays, deficits, and public debt for fiscal years 2030, 2040, and 2050. How many members of the House will still be in the House in 2030? How many of them will even be alive in 2050? Compare the future numbers in the Republican budget proposed last year (H. CON. RES. 34) with the fiscal year 2013 budget. The numbers aren’t even close.
The third problem with the Republican budget is that it budgets money for things not authorized by the Constitution. That is true even though House Republicans promised, in their “Pledge to America,” to “honor the Constitution as constructed by its framers,” “adhere to the Constitution,” and “require each bill moving through Congress to include a clause citing the specific constitutional authority upon which the bill is justified.”
So what is it in this Republican budget that is not authorized by the Constitution? Almost everything. According to the report that accompanies the budget resolution, Republicans plan to fund: foreign aid, scientific research, space flight, research, and supporting activities of NASA, the Department of Energy, the Department of Labor, the TVA, the Bureau of Land Management to maintain 650 million acres of government-owned land in the United States, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Flood Insurance Program, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Community Development Block Grants, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the FTC, FCC, SBA, TSA, FAA, FEMA, SEC, and USDA.
Where is the constitutional authority for any of those things? It simply doesn’t exist.
The fourth, and most important thing wrong with the Republican budget is that it perpetuates the welfare/warfare state.
If the report that accompanies the Republican budget resolution means anything, it means that Republicans have fully accepted and plan to continue all aspects of the welfare state. Nothing will be abolished; no program will be put on a course toward its elimination. Republicans want to “reform agricultural support programs, while maintaining a strong safety net for farmers.” They want to “make the Pell Grant program sustainable.” They want to “reform job training programs.” They want to “transform and strengthen the Medicaid safety net.” They want to “turn Medicaid from an open-ended entitlement into a block-granted program like SCHIP.” They want to reform Social Security and strengthen Medicare.
Consider budget function 600, “income security.” That is just a polite way of saying “welfare.” It includes unemployment compensation, low-income housing assistance (including Section 8 housing), food and nutrition assistance (including food stamps and school-lunch subsidies), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the refundable portion of the Earned Income Credit (EIC), and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
All of those programs have one thing in common: they transfer money from one group of Americans to another with a stop in Washington, D.C., so federal bureaucrats can remain employed. There should be no budget function 600. Yet this Republican plan proposes $517.1 billion in budget authority for those programs.
In his introduction to The Path to Prosperity, Paul Ryan wastes no time establishing the priority of the military:
The first responsibility of the federal government is the safety and security of all Americans. Today, the men and women of the U.S. military valiantly devote themselves to protecting American lives and liberty. Peace at home is only possible when America is strong. When America shrinks from her commitments to her allies and her duties to her citizens, her enemies are emboldened and her ideals are diminished. This overarching governmental responsibility — securing the inherent rights of all Americans to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — is the principle and the purpose that informs this entire federal budget.
He goes on to describe how the Republican budget will uphold the mission of the military:
With American men and women in uniform currently engaged with a fierce enemy and dealing with emerging threats around the world, this budget takes several steps to ensure that national security remains government’s top priority.This budget rejects proposals to make thoughtless, across-the-boardcuts in funding for national defense. Instead, it provides $554 billion for national defense spending, an amount that is consistent with America’s military goals and strategies. This budget preserves necessary defense spending to protect vital national interests today and ensures future real growth in defense spending to modernize the armed forces for the challenges of tomorrow.
The budget resolution offered by House Republicans ensures that the men and women who each day risk their lives in defense of the nation will continue to have the best training, equipment and support.
This budget resolution ensures that the base defense budget will not be cut during wartime. The President’s defense budget request is 2.5 percent lower in real inflation-adjusted dollars than what Congress provided for this year. The House Republican budget provides level funding for defense so that the military has adequate funds to accommodate higher-than-anticipatedfuel prices, to maintain training and readiness, and to keep faith with America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.
But between March 20, when “The Path to Prosperity” was introduced, and March 23, when the budget resolution was introduced in Congress, the $554 billion in defense spending had already risen to $562 billion. And as economist Robert Higgs of the Independent Institute, former Senate staffer Winslow Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information, and others have shown, real defense spending is actually closer to a trillion dollars once you account for supplemental war appropriations and the defense-related spending of the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Energy, State, the Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, and NASA and the interest expense on the national debt attributable to defense spending.
But not only is the amount of actual defense spending understated, the amount of spending that is actually necessary for defense is overstated. Most U.S. defense spending is not spent on defense at all. It is spent on maintaining an empire of troops and bases around the world, fighting senseless foreign wars, occupying foreign countries, bombing foreign countries, intervening in foreign countries, meddling in foreign countries, and lining the pockets of defense contractors in as many congressional districts as possible.
The sad truth is that American men and women in uniform are engaging with enemies and dealing with threats of America’s own making. They are unnecessarily risking their lives. American military goals and strategies are aggressive, belligerent, and meddling. And it is only by choice that the United States is currently engaged in wars.
The Republican “Path to Prosperity” is not a “Blueprint for American Renewal.” It is bloated, fiscally irresponsible, and makes a mockery of the Constitution. It is a path toward, and a blueprint for, the welfare/warfare state.