This op-ed was originally published at The Hill on December 23, 2016.
Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul recently raised eyebrows when, in a op-ed for Time, he wrote that he would vote against a budget resolution that includes instructions to repeal ObamaCare through reconciliation if it does not balance.
Republicans have the best opportunity they will ever have to repeal ObamaCare, but Paul’s contention is that beginning the process through a budget that never balances sends the wrong message to taxpayers. His logic has merit.
During the midst of a fight over the debt ceiling in 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act, an idea proposed by the White House to trigger compulsory spending “cuts” if an agreement between President Barack Obama and House Republicans on deficit reduction could not be reached. The spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act, also known as “sequestration,” was not a real spending cut in the true sense of the term. It did, however, slow the rate of spending increases.
Unfortunately, more than five years later, Congress has twice blown through spending caps mandated by the Budget Control Act. Many Republicans justify breaking the spending caps by arguing that compromises Democrats had control of the Senate, as was the case in December 2013, or because, even though Republicans regain control of the Senate, a Democrat was in the White House, which was the case with the most recent budget deal in October 2015 under then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
With an incoming Republican president and Republican control of Congress, now is the time to get serious about the budget deficit and the national debt. “That’s why I’m urging my colleagues and leaders to get serious about spending and the size of government, while also repealing ObamaCare,” Paul wrote in Time. “We don’t need to negotiate with Democrats to do it. We don’t need a single vote, which is good, because we aren’t going to get it.”
The budget deficit will rise in real dollars and as a percentage of gross domestic product in the coming years, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent budget outlook report, reaching $1.243 trillion in 2026, or 4.6 percent of GDP. The picture is more ominous the long-term, as entitlements and interest on the national debt drown the United States in a sea of red ink.
While some may say that a Republican president and a Republican Congress will bring spending restraint, fiscal conservatives and libertarians remember President George W. Bush’s fiscal profligacy. President Bush oversaw increased non-defense discretionary spending, a bailout of the financial industry, ramped up pork barrel spending and earmarks, and the creation of a new entitlement.
If the incoming Republican-controlled Congress simply maintains the status quo, the federal budget will never balance. Even if Republicans came to their senses and restored the original spending caps under the Budget Control Act, the budget will never balance. Nibbling around the edges with cuts to non-discretionary spending is not a solution to the long-term fiscal challenges that face the United States.
“Unfortunately,” the Kentucky Republican explained, “the budget currently being considered by Republicans never leads to balance, not in a thousand years.”
Repealing ObamaCare is a necessity, and one Paul supports. This law has been a disaster for insurance markets, patients, and taxpayers. But congressional Republicans must deliver on a balanced budget. Otherwise, the frequent, and deserved, criticisms of President Obama’s massive budget deficits and near doubling of the national debt will look exceedingly hypocritical.
While there are fiscal conservatives in Congress — the House Freedom Caucus, Paul, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), and a handful of others — who will fight for spending restraint and offer solutions for a balanced budget, Republicans cannot fall back into the fiscal profligacy of the Bush era.
Jason Pye (@Pye) is the director of public policy and legislative affairs for FreedomWorks.