Today, astonishingly, 281 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives – including 100 Republicans – voted to increase the government’s autopilot “mandatory” spending. Tucking even more new spending into the “non-discretionary” category in order to avoid budget constraints is a dangerous precedent – one which no fiscal conservative should ever support.
H.R. 6, the 21st Century Cures Act, included nearly $2 billion per year in new funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for 5 years. But instead of following the normal process of authorizing this new spending to be appropriated by Congress each year, the bill put the spending into the category of non-discretionary, autopilot spending.
Congressman Dave Brat’s amendment to H.R. 6, the 21st Century Cures Act, was very simple – it merely switched the new NIH spending into the category of normal, discretionary spending. That way, Congress would have to do its job and prioritize its spending with the money they are allotted under the budget caps. Yet, 100 Republicans joined every Democrat in the House to vote against the Brat Amendment.
You can see the full roll call vote and where your representative stood on the Brat amendment here: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2015/roll431.xml
If the spending had been designated discretionary, it would have counted towards the budget caps that Congress bound itself under the Budget Control Act of 2011, and would have therefore required Congress to find immediate cuts elsewhere in the budget to offset the new program. By making the spending “mandatory”, the bill’s supporters could claim to find the offsets from longer-term tweaks to entitlement spending – allowing them to spend money today for cuts later.
But, the bill’s supporters claim, the new spending is only temporary! Take a look at the “temporary” programs the government has created and see how many of them expired on schedule – especially spending programs. The Highway Trust Fund was scheduled to expire in 1972 and it’s still with us (and bankrupt). The Medicare “doc fix” was supposed to be a short-term fix, but Congress reauthorized it every year for nearly twenty years.
Milton Friedman said that “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” Creating another bit of “temporary” mandatory spending, while our annual deficits hover near the half-billion dollar mark and add to an $18 trillion debt, is irresponsible. For Republicans, most of whom were elected on a platform of fiscal responsibility and limited government, it’s insane.