Sen. Corker's Stand for a Better GOP Budget
This week, Sen. Corker singlehandedly stalled his party's budget proposal — the one created to fix a Washington running for years without one.
Republicans’ first attempt to present a fiscally responsible budget after assuming control of Capitol Hill ran into some snags this week. A budget resolution hashed out between House and Senate negotiators was expected to see an easy passage before Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) stalled the process by refusing to sign on to the final proposal.
Corker, recently listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, where he was described as the “pragmatist of Congress,” is known for having a strong grasp of economics after spending many successful years in the private sector. He withdrew his support of the budget because he saw the proposal as riddled with budget gimmicks.
The resolution that Republicans crafted relies on a budget tool that gives lawmakers flexibility in dealing with spending curbs. This budgetary shell game is cleverly known as CHIMPS ⎯ Changes in Mandatory Programs — and it allows for boosting spending in some areas by offsetting spending in mandatory programs. The trouble with CHIMPS is that those spending cuts in mandatory programs are rarely, if ever, honored, basically amounting to an overall increase in spending.
“CHIMPS is a budget gimmick that is $190 billion in extra spending over a 10 year period,” Corker told reporters Tuesday. “And it’s something our caucus all has been for eliminating.”
Republicans gained control of both chambers of Congress in part because of their promise of fiscal responsibility after a decade of budgetary chaos thanks to spendthrift Democrats. Under the leadership of heavyweight curmudgeon Harry Reid, the Senate flat out refused to craft budgets, as required by law, opting instead to hide the true nature of impending fiscal doom through a series of continuing resolutions.
The GOP wants to bring an end to this craziness by passing budgets that come into balance in ten years. But thanks to CHIMPS, military spending will increase in the coming fiscal year without any significant cuts to entitlements.
Corker’s refusal to sign on to the budget proposal made sense for fiscal hawks. The GOP’s inability to curb spending its first time out as the majority party on Capitol Hill does not bode well for the future of its grand plan to bring fiscal sanity to Washington. So-called moderate Republicans who are just as drunk on spending as Democrats gleefully rely on CHIMPS and other budget tricks to circumvent the sequestration caps put in place four years ago. Corker’s opposition to the status quo offered a welcome change to the lip service being paid on spending.
But all is not what it seems in Washington. Wednesday, Corker reversed himself and signed on to the House-Senate budget proposal. “There is no question this budget is far from perfect,” Corker said, “But it is some progress since it has been a long time since Congress has completed this basic part of governing.”
With Corker allowing the budget to proceed, the House passed the proposal 226-197 Thursday, sticking close to their self-imposed deadline to move things forward before leaving town for a brief recess. Fourteen Republicans joined all the Democrats in opposition. The Senate will vote on the proposal in a few days.
Corker’s change of attitude could be considered a flip-flop since there were no fundamental changes made to the resolution to get him on board. But by making his initial stand, he brought to light some of the fundamental problems that plague the budget process in Washington.
To say that federal spending is out of control may be the mother of all understatements. The national debt is over $18 trillion, close to $10 trillion of which has been amassed since Barack Obama took office. Budget deficits, which averaged around $1 trillion a year for his first term, are still in the $500 billion range. Obama is proposing a 7% across-the-board spending increase for the next fiscal year, and he has vowed to veto any Republican budget that adheres to the sequestration cuts that he suggested then later blamed on Republicans.
Democrats have remained resolutely committed to spending without limits while ignoring the inevitable consequences of the government’s careless fiscal strategy, or lack thereof. Senate Democrats are expected to unanimously oppose the budget like their colleagues in the House.
The budget process is complicated and filled with numerous moving parts. It’s no wonder that it puts people’s brains to sleep. Unfortunately, it’s had the same effect on those elected to actually negotiate it.
Many citizens know the dangers of not cutting back on spending, yet when it comes time for the government to actually do so people balk at their favorite programs being cut because so many are now on the government dole. This was by liberal design. Over the course of many years, Democrats have steadily convinced the public that people need the government to run all these services and provide cradle-to-grave entitlements. No one stopped to consider just how all these programs would be paid for.
That is why Corker’s stand against the CHIMPS budget gimmick, brief though it was, is so important. It highlights the fantasy world in which Congressional lawmakers live, and it reminds us all that this world must give way to reality if America wants to avoid political and economic disaster.