House Republicans took a hit in the 2018 midterms, in no small part because of failure to follow through on policy measures promised to voters in past election cycles.
From repealing ObamaCare to cutting spending, Republican leadership has stifled conservative members’ efforts to follow through on the promises they made to voters. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) made significant headway in raising awareness about this in his bid for speaker of the House and then for minority leader, where he highlighted a simple message: “Do what we said.”
This shouldn’t be so complicated for Republicans to do. They were elected on certain issues, and they should not expect to return to office if they fail to answer to their voters. In the case of cutting spending, this phenomenon certainly played out when Republicans lost the House majority in 2018.
Thirty-one freshmen Republican members of the House came into office in the 116th Congress on the tails of the disappointing leadership of former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.). Despite being regarded as one of the biggest budget hawks of the Republican Conference prior to taking the gavel, Ryan completely failed to rein in the federal budget as speaker. In fact, under his leadership, the national debt increased nearly $4 trillion, from $18.1 trillion to $21.9 trillion.
According to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), federal outlays are on a more unsustainable path than ever, which is, unfortunately, no surprise. Federal outlays are expected to grow from 20.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019 to 23.0 percent of GDP in 2029. Over the past 50 years, outlays have averaged 20.3 percent of GDP.
Similarly, the federal government is projected to borrow another $13 trillion from the end of 2018 through 2029, skyrocketing our national debt to $33.681 trillion by 2029. This is a 50 percent increase in only a 10-year window.
New members must take note. Republicans before them failed to put spending on a sustainable track, as they had promised for years, and they paid the price for it. It is absolutely true that it is not the fault of these incoming Republicans that the profligate spending patterns of Congress could not be stymied by the supposed party of limited government and fiscal responsibility — but it now is up to them to change this.
They should reshape the Republican Party to actually embrace spending cuts and true fiscal conservatism. Should they not, they likely will pay the same price as those before them.
Now, this task is not easy, and from where we are today, it is a steep uphill battle. It is unpopular in the court of public opinion to even talk about reforming Medicare and Social Security, and accusations from the left of coldheartedness and malice abound when the topic is brought up.
The reality, however, is that failing to reform these programs and subsequently creating unavoidable fiscal crisis for our children and grandchildren actually is the cold-hearted and malicious position.
Medicare and Social Security are the largest portions of mandatory spending, which operates entirely outside of the annual congressional appropriations process. As such, members consistently can avoid talking about it, because it would require actual changes to existing law to address.
Inaction is not an option, though. Average annual outlays of Social Security are projected to increase from $4.9 billion currently to $6.3 billion through the 2040-2049 window. Medicare fares worse, with an increase from $3.6 billion currently to $7.0 billion.
As this mandatory spending on entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security grows unchecked, the congressional appropriations process becomes less and less important. The national debt held by the public is expected to surpass 150 percent of GDP — a level that we’ve never before seen. That is no fault of our new Republican members of the House and Senate, but it directly affects their constituents and voters.
They cannot make the same mistake as many of their predecessors (and even some of their colleagues). In the 116th Congress and beyond, Republicans need to fight for real spending reforms. That means tackling mandatory and entitlement spending, in addition to opposing annual spending increases. The future of our country — and the electoral fate of Republicans — depends on it.