It’s unfortunate that discussions about federal spending are often filled with generic talk about overall spending levels, “non-defense discretionary spending,” and “sequestration.” Ultimately, what matters is funding for specific programs and agencies, such as Americorps, the National Institutes of Health, and VA hospitals. In that sense, it’s good to see the debate get more specific this week, with the House Appropriations Committee approving spending levels for each of the twelve appropriations bills that will fund the government in fiscal year 2014.
The Ryan Budget, which was passed by House Republicans, calls for deep across-the-board cuts in domestic spending. Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) followed that blueprint in his allocations for the twelve appropriations bills.
Republicans on the Appropriations Committee are not happy. In one case, the bill funding the Department of the Interior and EPA received a budget authority allocation of $24.3 billion. The last bill Congress approved for those agencies provided $30.6 billion (before sequestration). Mike Simpson (R-ID), who is the subcommittee chairman responsible for writing the Interior/EPA bill, vented to Politico that, “There are going to be some ugly numbers in there. It is not the optimal situation.”
Congressmen Simpson and Rogers both voted for the Ryan budget, but that was back when spending cuts were generic. Chairman Rogers blamed sequestration for forcing him to operare within such low spending restraints. He told Politico, “The guillotine of sequestration has fallen. I think we all agree that its consequences have been, and will continue to be, very harmful, and it should be replaced in the very near term.”
Sequestration is a fair excuse for almost everyone. Sequestration is the law. But it’s not an excuse that works for Congress. Much like Judge Dredd, Congress is the law.
If the House Appropriations Committee wants to repeal sequestration to clear the way for a more sensible level of spending, they should write legislation to do that. Democrats on the committee proposed to do just that, offering an amendment to replacing sequestration with a mix of tax increases and other spending cuts. That failed on a party line vote.
The debate over federal spending got a little more specific this week. We went from just one number for total discretionary spending, to twelve numbers to divide up the pie. That’s still pretty generic – none of those twelve bills have been written yet. Yet already there is heartburn from supporters of the Ryan Budget over what its spending cuts will actually do.