President Reagan said it 42 years ago in his first inaugural speech: “[G]overnment is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” And while it is easy to blame big spending Democrats for the runaway federal budget and the nation’s staggering national deficit, that’s not really fair. While Democrats love to spend money on social programs, Republicans love to spend money on war. And, everyone in the swamp loves to bring home “pork” for their district.
With Republicans now in charge of the House, should there be reason to be optimistic? Maybe, but at the end of 1995, the national debt was just under $5.0 trillion. At the end of 2022, that debt had increased to almost $31 trillion — a six-fold increase in under two decades. Even if adjusted for inflation, the increase is staggering. We can blame that on the Democrats — right? Not so fast.
Who is to Blame for our $31 Trillion Debt?
It may seem difficult to believe, but since 1995, Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives during 11 of the last 14 Congresses. Republicans controlled the House during six consecutive Congresses, from the 104th through the 109th under Clinton and George W. Bush. Then Democrats took over the House in the 110th and 111th Congresses during the end of the Bush Administration and the first two years of the Obama Administration. Power returned to the Republicans for four consecutive Congresses, from the 112th through 115th Congresses during the Obama Administration and the first half of the Trump Administration. Democrats took over during the 116th Congress for the second half of the Trump Administration, and the first half of the 117th Congress under Biden. And now, Republicans are in control of the House for the rest of the Biden Administration’s term.
To be sure, the nation has had a divided government during many of those years, with Democrats in charge of the Senate and in the White House, but as to taxing and spending issues, it is the House of Representatives that plays the dominant role.
The Constitution has two provisions about taxing and spending. Article I, section 7, cl. 1 states: “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives….” Article I, section 8, cl. 7 states: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by law….” To be sure, over the years, many procedural artifices have been designed to erode the dominant power of the House over taxing and spending, but not one dollar of federal money may be spent without the approval of the House.
Immediately before the Republicans took over the House in January, in December 2022, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and many Republicans joined Democrats to pass a nearly $2 trillion “omnibus package.”
“[W]eak and compromised Republican leaders are choosing to actively help pass this terrible bill filled with Biden-Schumer-Pelosi priorities,” lamented Congressman Bob Good (R-VA):
The omnibus bill pumps over $1.7 trillion out of American wallets…. Among the other provisions is millions in funding for radical gender ideology programs that seek to advance woke leftist messaging. Additionally, they propose massive funding “antiracist” initiatives, … expanding welfare programs to compensate for President Joe Biden’s inflationary policies, pouring millions of dollars into broken government agencies such as the FBI that have caved to extreme ideology, and giving more money to the abortion mill, Planned Parenthood.
Cutting Overall Spending
The next fiscal year begins October 1, 2023 — just five short months from now. If spending continues in the future the way it has gone in the past, Republican voters will have no one to blame but their own elected officials — particularly those in the House.
It is impossible to understand how large our nation’s debt truly is. It ticks upward every second on the debt clock, and is $31,460,819,460,502 at this writing. The number defies imagination. (That translates into $94,200 for every single person in America.) Consider that the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) for 2022 — the total value of all goods and services produced in the United States — was only $25 trillion. So, even if the value of everything manufactured, plus the value of all services provided in the United States in 2022, were devoted to paying off the debt, it could not do so.
Now the House GOP has passed a proposal to condition a $1.5 trillion increase in the debt ceiling to some modest limits on the government’s spending. The bill would “reset the federal budget baseline to where it was last year —that is, before the December passage of the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill… and would limit future budget growth to one percent annually for the next decade.” Even with such a limitation, government spending would continue to grow faster than the American economy.
Obviously, the GOP measure will not fix the problem. Overall cuts in spending remain essential if the nation is to fall off a financial cliff. But there is one more thing the House Republicans could do.
Defunding the Worst Programs and Agencies
In addition to cutting spending overall, House Republicans could defund the most dangerous and abusive agencies and programs. Ronald Reagan correctly observed that “a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.” But the Republicans could at least try to prove him wrong.
The House GOP debt limit bill included one provision to use the power of the purse to stop one runaway government agency. It would end the funding for 87,000 new IRS agents included in last year’s omnibus bill. That could be done, again and again, if the Republicans have the will to do so.
The ability to defund specific wasteful, and often evil, federal agencies and programs is one of the most powerful weapons that Republicans could use to slow the federal Leviathan. Bloated federal agencies, flush with money and abusive of the constitutional rights of Americans, must be hit where it hurts – their budgets. It is absolutely imperative that House Republicans begin to starve the worst aspects of the federal government – before the beast devours what remains of freedom.