Staff Columnist

Republicans pass up chance to deliver on budget promises

Grassley, Ernst among a minority of Republicans supporting 'penny plan'

FILE PHOTO: The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
FILE PHOTO: The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Nearly every Republican politician since I was old enough to vote has campaigned on balancing the federal budget. Last week, we were reminded most of them don’t really mean it.

The U.S. Senate rejected a proposal aimed at balancing the budget by cutting one percent of federal spending each of the next five years. The so-called “penny plan” drew just 21 supporters in the Republican-controlled chamber, including Iowa Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst. Nearly 30 other Republicans voted to block the bill.

“Republicans campaigned against enormous spending by President Obama and trillion dollar annual deficits. Now we’re faced with enormous spending and trillion dollar annual deficits by Republicans. … We got guns and butter. Everyone gets what they want, except for the taxpayer, those of us who care about the debt. So the debt has exploded now under Republican control,” Sen. Rand Paul, the legislation’s sponsor, said on the Senate floor last week.

"The debt has exploded now under Republican control."

- Sen. Rand Paul

R-Kentucky

The penny plan has support from conservative policy advocates and several former Republican presidential candidates. Even President Donald Trump touted the idea in a white paper published during the campaign, writing he could balance the budget over 10 years without touching defense or entitlement programs.

The federal deficit totals more than $500 billion and spending is expected to continue growing faster than revenue, hitting a $1 trillion annual shortfall by 2020. But under Paul’s plan, spending would square with revenue by 2023, according to an analysis from the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight.

Some analysts are skeptical of the proposal, warning it would lead to unpopular cuts to federal services. However, the penny plan doesn’t prescribe any specific cuts, it only sets bench marks to guide Congress’s budgeting process.

Despite Trump’s and other Republicans’ rhetoric on fiscal responsibility, federal spending has only continued to grow since the party took full control of the federal government following the 2016 elections.

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Legislation passed by Congress and signed by Trump during his first year in office is expected to add $1.9 trillion in new debt compared to previous estimates, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

The Trump administration’s own budget figures published earlier this year show staggering growth in the federal debt. Trump’s 2019 budget proposal calls for more than $7 trillion in cumulative deficits over the next decade, even with optimistic assumptions about economic growth and the positive impact of tax reform.

To be fair, Trump is not the first president to promise fiscal sanity and then deliver the opposite. Deficits totaled more than $3 trillion under former President George W. Bush and more than $6 trillion under former president Barack Obama, both assisted by bipartisan Congresses.

The national debt is now greater than the entire U.S. economy, measured by the gross domestic product. Just paying the interest on that debt is expected to cost more than $300 billion this year. That is not what Americans voted for when we elected Republicans to lead the federal government.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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