“NO” on Bipartisan Budget Agreement of 2015 (H.R. 1314)

The Senate will vote on the House-passed Bipartisan Budget Agreement of 2015 (H.R. 1314).  The agreement negotiated by President Obama and  outgoing Speaker John is essentially two bills merged into one: a clean suspension of the debt limit until March 2017 equal to roughly $1.5 trillion and a $112 billion spending increase that busts the heralded 2011 budget caps for the next two years.  Combined, the package represents the very worst of Washington – a last minute deal that increases spending and debt under the auspices of fiscal responsibility.

In recent years, the debt limit has been “suspended” indiscriminately by a Congress that has abandoned responsible budget practices.  Only 28 House Republicans voted for the last clean suspension of the debt ceiling back in February 2014.

The notion that a debt limit increase should not be a routine, inconsequential affair is hardly new. In 1953, a Republican Senate initially denied a debt limit increase requested by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower. According to the Public Administration Review, “It signaled the start of a pattern that made debt ceiling legislation a component of the broader efforts by fiscal conservatives to control government spending.”

Boehner embraced that argument in 2011, telling the Economic Club of New York that “Without significant spending cuts and changes to the way we spend the American people’s money, there will be no debt limit increase” and those “cuts should be greater than the accompanying increase in debt authority the president is given.”  When Boehner made those comments, our nation’s debt limit stood at $14.294 trillion.  Suspending the debt limit until March 2017 would likely push that number near $20 trillion.

Ironically, the Bipartisan Budget Agreement of 2015 would obliterate the discretionary spending caps established by the Budget Control Act of 2011. These caps ostensibly forced fiscal responsibility by mandating sequestration cuts if Congress continued to spend recklessly. By contrast, this bill raises the caps, authorizing an additional $80 billion worth of spending over the next two years. In addition to breaking the budget caps, the bill provides for an additional $32 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funding that is not subject to the caps, for a combined $112 billion spending increase over two years.

Despite some late night gimmicky on Tuesday that includes additional ‘pension smoothing,’ the bill does not fully offset the new increase.  More importantly, the bill would increase spending and deficits in each of the next three years. Lawmakers – and their constituents – are being asked to trust that a future Congress will abide by the minor reforms and egregious gimmicks mandated by this deal.  The Heritage Foundation’s Paul Winfree explains:

Nearly half of those offsets (including new revenues) are not realized until 2025—the last year of the budget window.

Between this Boehner-Obama deal and the Ryan-Murray spending agreement of 2013 (the last time Congress revisited the discretionary spending caps), Congress has increased spending by a total of $143 billion before 2021 (the period covered by the Budget Control Act) paid for with $98 billion in savings not realized until after 2021.

As we know from past experience, these “savings” sometimes never materialize because they’re so far into the future.

As Congressional Quarterly observed earlier this week, the package was bundled together this way to give “Republicans the opportunity to sell the package as raising the debt limit in exchange for constraints on spending” while “Democrats will insist that it is a so-called clean debt limit increase that is attached to other legislation.”  The Bipartisan Budget Agreement of 2015 is two distinct policies – a clean, $1.5 trillion debt limit suspension and a $112 billion spending increase – rolled into one for political expediency.

Heritage Action opposes H.R. 1314 and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.