Fiscal conservatism missing in action

The nation has a budget, finally, with spending approved for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years. It brings to an end the continuing resolutions and the threats of government shutdowns. And, as a headline in the Connecticut Mirror aptly put it, the “Budget deal has plenty for Connecticut.”

All seven members of the state’s congressional delegation — its two senators and five House members, all Democrats — voted for the spending bill.

It boosts spending for submarine design and construction at Electric Boat, for F-35 engines produced by Pratt, and for Sikorsky-made helicopters.

“We’re in business,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, eastern Connecticut’s congressman.

It also, as U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro of the state’s 3rd Congressional District stated, provides funding for social programs that will support “Connecticut’s seniors, children, families, and veterans.”

It has $90 billion in disaster relief, including boosting the inefficient relief effort to Puerto Rico.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy even slipped in language that exempts Connecticut-based Newman’s Own Foundation from a new tax provision that would have detracted from the company’s charitable work.

Yet it is hard not to come to the conclusion that this budget, combined with the recent massive tax cut, has traded some short-lived good times for some serious problems to come.

If the spending provisions in the bill become permanent, the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that it will cost the country $2.1 trillion and by 2027 bring the federal debt to 105 percent of Gross Domestic Product. That number stood at about 75 percent when President Barack Obama left office.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, noted the hypocrisy that after fighting Obama’s spending proposals in the name of fiscal austerity, Republicans have abandoned that priority now that they are in full control of government.

"When the Democrats are in power, Republicans appear to be the conservative party. But when Republicans are in power, it seems there is no conservative party. The hypocrisy hangs in the air and chokes anyone with a sense of decency or intellectual honesty,” Paul said. “I want (senators) to have to answer people at home who said, ‘How come you were against President Obama's deficits, and then how come you're for Republican deficits?’"

Where were the tea party faithful who protested plans by Democrats to spend on health care? At least the Affordable Care Act included provisions to generate revenues to cover its costs.

A saner and safer approach would have been tax cuts not nearly so large, particularly when employment is at a low 4.1 percent and the economy already growing, and spending increases not nearly so steep.

In the short term, expect strong economic growth. How can the economy not grow when the government both increases its own spending and drastically cuts the tax bills of corporate America?

But it also brings the threat of a return to inflation such as the country has not seen in more than a generation. That would boost interest rates further and make the deficit situation worse.

And what does Congress do the next time there is a recession? Forget about money for stimulus. The Republican government has chosen to stimulate now, when there isn’t much need to do so.

And how will it pay the bills as the baby boomer generation ages and increases the cost of entitlements?

How would it pay for a war?

Fittingly, the spending bill passed as America slept — the Senate approving the measure 71-28 about 2 a.m., the House following suit, 240-186, about 5:30 a.m.

On the House side it took 73 Democrats in favor, including all those folks from Connecticut, to offset the 67 Republicans who voted no.

Some of the Democrats in opposition held out for action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. President Donald Trump revoked the Obama-era program that protected from deportation young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, giving them the ability to openly pursue higher education and jobs.

In less than a month, all protections expire. Many Democrats saw holding up a spending bill as the last lever they had to force a vote on restoring the DACA protections as law. The Republican Senate and House leaders have said they will get to it.

Perhaps they will take that assurance more seriously than their past promises of demanding fiscal discipline. 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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