Spending Cuts in Omnibus Bill Show GOP Progress in Fiscal Debate

As Christmas nears and families prepare to sit down to a big turkey dinner, Washington had its own, slightly less tasty feast last week.

“This bill is a crap sandwich!,” said Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ). “I hoped that this bill would include far more cuts, greater reforms, and more regulatory relief. I’m disappointed that it does not! It does however inch us forward towards our ultimate goal of fiscal sanity.

And although that may taste better than the sugar coated satan sandwich that came out of the debt limit debate, it was still tough to take a bite. Or as Rep. Gosar extended the metaphor, “You definitely do not want to bite into it, you cannot stand the taste, but you know you have to eat it.”

The bill Gosar was referring to is the year-end appropriations bill, a $915 billion behemoth that will fund the government through 2012. Is it perfect? Far from it. The bill only cuts $6 billion from last year, far short of the House-passed “Path to Prosperity” budget which called for $30 billion in discretionary cuts as well as several important reforms to mandatory programs, and miles away from the sort of spending discipline that is needed to avert a true fiscal catastrophe.

After all, when we’re consistently talking deficits in the trillions, spending cuts in the low, low billions just ain’t gonna get the job done.

No doubt many conservatives are upset with the outcome. And rightly so. Deeper cuts must be made to prevent the United States from traveling down the path of Europe. And after the last few months we all know where that leads – rising interest costs, increasing instability, and ultimately default.

Rather than lick our wounds and retreat on the spending fight, conservatives must stay united and send some reinforcements to the new Republican majority we elected in 2010.

This Congress did accomplish a lot. First off, spending bills are almost always considered alongside offsets. Take, for instance, the “extenders” package that passed the Senate yesterday. The mammoth bill that continues the payroll tax reduction, covers the “doc fix,” extends Unemployment Insurance, and does a bundle of other things, most of which cost a pretty penny.

In years past, the bill would have cruised through the House and the Senate without anyone batting an eye at the bottom line. This year, things were different. The debate over spending had shifted so much that both parties, Democrats included, agreed that the bill had to be offset so that it didn’t increase the deficit.

Another example comes in the just-passed omnibus appropriations bill. It didn’t cut much, but it also didn’t spend more. Remember that just one year ago the Senate was close to passing a $1.3 trillion bill that would have increased year-over-year spending by an amazing $100 billion. House Republicans have succeeded in shifting the debate from how much more can we spend to how much can we cut.

And right now the answer is not much. That’s what we can change in 2012.

The Republican-controlled House wanted to accomplish a lot more. They passed a budget that would have gradually achieved a balanced budget, they pushed for greater spending cuts during the debt limit debate, and they have dozens of job-creation bills waiting on action. But Democrats control the Senate, meaning that there is only so much conservatives can do further the goal of fiscal responsibility.

So rather than fume about the lack of cuts in the appropriations bill, let’s channel that energy towards electing a Senate more amenable to our vision of small government. We may have been forced to choke down a crap sandwich, but that’s all the more reason for putting some better chefs in the kitchen in 2012.