December 11, 2013

Long-Term Vision

As with any compromise, not everyone is happy with the Ryan-Murray budget.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) announced the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 Tuesday night, and, as expected, it’s a mixed bag. There are no tax increases and no extension of costly unemployment benefits but the compromise also busts the hard-won sequester caps from the 2011 Budget Control Act. Ryan argues, “In divided government, you don’t always get what you want. That said, we still can make progress toward our goals. I see this agreement as that kind of progress.”

Instead of discretionary spending topping out at $967 billion in 2014 (down from $986 billion in 2013), next year’s spending will increase to $1.012 trillion and then $1.014 trillion in 2015. The increase is split between defense and domestic programs, giving both parties something. To “pay” for $63 billion in new spending for the next two years, there will be, over 10 years, $85 billion in savings from new fees (such as for airport security) and minor reforms to entitlements and other government programs. The Big Three entitlements are the biggest drivers of the federal debt, and chipping away with small reforms is better than nothing.

As with any compromise, not everyone is happy. The Wall Street Journal reports, “More than 20 conservative leaders signed a statement released Tuesday opposing any deal that raises spending levels or increases revenue. They included the leaders of the Family Research Council, the Tea Party Patriots, the tea party-aligned FreedomWorks and the American Conservative Union.” And as commentator George Will wryly observed, “saving” $23 billion over 10 years “is a rounding error on the [$17 trillion] debt. … It’s trivial.”

We share Heritage’s objections, but allow us to offer a slightly different strategic perspective. First, this budget deal certainly doesn’t adequately address the core problem: The federal government spends far too much money. The sequester wasn’t ideal, but at least it reduced spending growth and it was already law; undoing it seems counterproductive. However, as Ryan notes, “This bill reduces the deficit by $23 billion, it does not raise taxes, and it cuts spending in a smarter way. I see this agreement as a step in the right direction.”

Ryan is looking beyond the next two years with an eye toward addressing long-term debt. Yes, conservatives want far more than he was able to accomplish this time, but to achieve that we have to win elections. And to do that, conservatives must not lose sight of the primary objective for 2014 and 2016, which is to ensure Democrats are saddled with the disaster of ObamaCare. Sometimes the cost of strategic objectives is high.

Don’t interpret our analysis as surrender, when in fact it reflects the best strategic option at our disposal now – other than taking up arms and marching on Washington, which we think might be the second best option!

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