DO NOT CONGRATULATE: Congressional passage of the Omnibus spending bill is no cause for celebration

Members of Congress are patting themselves on their backs today for what they consider to be a great success: passage of a $1.3 trillion omnibus federal budget that avoids another government shutdown.

But a closer look at the budget — and the frenzied, chaotic process that produced it — doesn’t give American taxpayers much to cheer about:

  • The 2,000-plus page spending bill was released just hours before enactment, giving members no time to actually find out what’s in it.
  • It includes the biggest increase in defense spending in more than a decade — $160 billion over two years — which is more money than the Pentagon said it needs for planes, ships and other weapons systems.
  • It increases domestic spending by $126 billion.
  • Most importantly, the bill will add up to $400 billion to the federal deficit, setting the stage for $1.5 trillion in additional debt over the next 10 years. Young people especially should be outraged because they’ve just been handed a very large bill that will come due as they enter the workforce.
  • Since passage of the FY18 budget is six months late, Congress will have to deal with the next fiscal year’s budget by this September, and we will likely face yet another government shutdown.

This is not a shining moment for Congress. This is out-of-control, irresponsible actions by members of both political parties who are unable or unwilling to set priorities, make tough decisions and look no further than their next election.

It’s one thing to rack up big deficits when the country is facing a major recession and increased government spending is needed to jolt the economy. But, there is simply no excuse for creating permanent, trillion-dollar deficits when our economy is strong and, in the president’s words, “booming.” In fact, a recent article by Shawn Tully in Fortune pointed out that Congress’s new taste for profligate spending could reverse economic progress:

By 2028, America’s government debt burden could explode from this year’s $15.5 trillion to a staggering $33 trillion — more than 20 perecnt bigger than it would have been had Trump’s agenda not passed. At that point, interest payments would absorb more than $1 in $5 of federal revenue, crippling the government’s ­capacity to bolster the economy, and constraining the private sector too. Contrary to the claims of the President and his supporters, the U.S. can’t grow fast enough to shed this burden.

What this means is that interest payments on the national debt will be so huge that we won’t have adequate funds to pay for defense, education, health care, infrastructure and other critical needs. Annual interest payments on the debt ($310 billion) are now the fourth largest expenditure in the federal budget, behind Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and defense. It’s like paying only the interest every month on your credit card — it keeps you solvent but does nothing to reduce the overall debt and takes away money you could be spending on other things.

As our debt grows and interest rates rise, those debt payments are expected to rise faster than any other outlay in the federal budget, according to the Congressional Budget Office, reaching $761 billion in 2028, or more than 12 percent of the entire federal budget. That’s more than we now spend annually on education, transportation, the environment, housing, foreign aid and science combined.

What’s even more frustrating is this omnibus budget passed with almost no discussion about the impact this growing debt will have on the next generation of taxpayers. Decisions on defense and domestic spending were made without any real evaluation of what’s truly needed to protect our country or what’s working and what’s not. Are we spending to upgrade Cold War-era weapons systems that we may never need or to defend against the cyber wars of the future? Are the increases in domestic spending aimed at programs that are actually achieving results? It seems clear that when Congress adds additional planes and ships to the budget beyond what the Pentagon says it needs, these are not strategic decisions but simply pork barrel spending.

Sadly, passage of this bill is yet another disappointing example of politicians promising one thing and doing another. How many candidates ran for office promising reductions in the federal deficit and then voted for this budget? As Axios points out, the bill passed not because Congress loved it but because it had to pass it to avoid a government shutdown. But that in itself is more evidence that our system is broken and needs to be changed.

As Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) stated rather colorfully, “This (bill) is a Great Dane-sized whiz down the leg of every taxpayer.” It will be up to those taxpayers who are fed up with broken promises and our broken system to vote for real change in November.

Neal Simon for U.S. Senate