Cooper: And the swamp expands

Cooper: And the swamp expands

February 13th, 2018 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., center, could afford to feel happy Friday after the Senate passed a budget deal and spending measure to reopen the federal government.

Photo by Jon Elswick

Our Congress took the easy way out Friday. Spending even more money to continue government operations, money it didn't actually have, always will be the easy way out.

The Republican majorities in the House and Senate had no choice, you might argue. They couldn't get to the numbers they needed without compromising with Democrats.

It's true that when a government shutdown is threatening — for the second time in three weeks — things look pretty desperate. But there was plenty of time to consider better deals for the American people when the clock wasn't edging closer to midnight.

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On Monday, three days after Congress passed a budget deal that increased government spending by $320 billion, it was back to business as usual. Democrats, who wanted the budget deal to include legislation legalizing younger illegal immigrants ("Dreamers"), couldn't say much because they got billions more in domestic spending. They no longer needed to pretend to be fiscally responsible like they did for a minute in December when Congress passed a tax cut. And a few Republican legislators were still carping about the budget deal, but life in Washington, D.C., was pretty much back to normal.

Now, big government will get bigger. More unneeded sectors of the 15 federal departments will be created. More people will be hired. More paperwork. More, more, more.

When it nears the midterm elections, though, the same Republicans who voted for the massive spending increase will be talking about how fiscally responsible they are, how Congress needs to reform entitlement spending before it's too late.

And what's a voter in November to do? If the voter believes the federal government should balance its books like he and his neighbor have to do, the choice the voter has is: the Democratic Party that never wants to decrease spending or the Republican Party that says it wants to decrease spending but votes like it doesn't.

President Donald Trump, who likes to talk about the government swamp that grew so much under his predecessor, gladly signed the spending bill and got that piece of business off the table.

"I'm saying the swamp won and the American taxpayer lost," U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, said on "Fox News Sunday."

The bill, he said, is "not consistent with what the American people elected us to do, not consistent with what we told them we were going to do."

Indeed, when the Trump administration released its second budget — fiscal 2019 — Monday, a balanced budget was nowhere in sight. His first budget, through a combination of cuts to domestic programs and safety net programs, got to even 10 years out (even if it was magical thinking).

Instead, the new talk is lowering the country's debt relative to the economy — $3 trillion over the next 10 years. In other words, as long as the economy grows faster than the debt, the federal government can still afford to annually cut some spending without much pain.

Not surprisingly, the Trump administration's statement on the budget sounded a lot like Republican candidates will this fall.

"Just like every American family," Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said in a news release, "the Budget makes hard choices: fund what we must, cut where we can, and reduce what we borrow. It's with respect for the hard work of the American people that we spend their tax dollars efficiently, effectively, and with accountability."

Right. Unfortunately, it appears spending taxpayer money is the one issue on which the parties agree.

If we thought most or all of the domestic spending included in this year's just-passed budget would cover the infrastructure problems Trump hopes to alleviate in the 2019 budget, we'd be a little more understanding. But the domestic spending will pay even more money for child care, college affordability, Internal Revenue Service and Social Security administration staffing, community health centers, tax breaks for green energy products, and will keep some Medicare and Medicaid cuts from occurring (because Obama-era caps were lifted).

In other words, this Trump budget will be even more generous than Obama's budget was in some areas because of the spending caps that had been in place.

We appreciate Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., for opposing the deal for the same reason we do — the outlandish deficit spending.

"To say I am discouraged by the outcome of these negotiations would be an understatement," he said.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., called the budget deal, which he voted against, a "debt junkie's dream."

"It was the worst piece of legislation I have voted on since I've been in the United States Congress," he said on CNN's "New Day, "and there's not another bill that's a close second."

And the swamp, which voters once hoped might be drained (or at least drawn down) in a Trump administration, grows ever larger.

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