First Rule of Budget Politics

Proponents of higher taxes and larger government often criticize small government folks in Congress for being "obstructionist" and "not willing to compromise."

But here is the problem:  Coyote's first rule of budget politics is to never trade current tax increases or "temporary" spending increases for future spending cuts, because the future spending cuts never happen.  Ever.  Not once.  In fact, I would not agree to trading current tax increases for current spending cuts, because taxes will stay forever but spending cuts will just be over-ridden in a few months.

Here is a recent example:

Last summer, Republicans in Congress agreed to increase the federal debt limit in exchange for the Democrats’ pledge to cap future spending at agreed-upon levels. The compromise was embodied in the Budget Control Act; discretionary spending was to increase by no more than $7 billion in the current fiscal year. I wrote yesterday about the fact that the Democrats intended to violate the Budget Control Act by increasing deficit spending on the Post Office by $34 billion. The measure probably would have glided through the Senate without notice had Jeff Sessions not challenged it. Sessions insisted on a point of order, based on the fact that the spending bill violated the Budget Control Act. It required 60 votes to waive Sessions’ point of order and toss the BCA on the trash heap.

Today the Senate voted 62-37 to do exactly that. This means that the consideration that Republicans obtained in exchange for increasing the debt limit is gone. Moreover, some Republicans–I haven’t yet seen the list–voted with the Democrats today.

One principal lesson can be drawn from this experience. It happens all the time that Congressional leaders will trumpet a budget agreement that allegedly saves the taxpayers trillions of dollars–not now, of course, but in the “out years.” But the out years never come. Tax increases are rarely deferred to the out years; they take place now, when it counts. But spending cuts? Never today, always tomorrow.

Purported agreements about what federal spending will be years from now are utterly meaningless. Congressmen will make a deal, brag about the ostensible savings in the press, and then walk away from it the moment our backs are turned, as the Democrats (and a handful of Republicans) did today.

When folks say, "we just want a compromise" on budget issues, what they are really saying is "we want to roll you.  We are hoping you are stupid enough to trade for future cost reductions that will never happen.  We can get away with this because we have an ally in the press, who always treats promises of future cost reductions as entirely credible and believable and thus paint those who are skeptical of them as radical obstructionists."


  1. Evil Red Scandi:

    And yet Republicans continue to insist that if we keep electing them that budgets will be brought under control, and a significant portion of the electorate is idiotic enough to believe it.

  2. Ted Rado:

    Anyone who believes anything the politicians of either party say re reining in government spending is suffering from dementia. It would ne delightful if someone showed some leadership and told the citizenry the truth: no amount of financial legerdemain will permit spending more than we take in over time. That means that many USG handouts, such as Medicare, Social Security, etc. will suffer. That is a FACT that must be faced, which our icompetent, gutless pols are unwilling to do. The cookie jar is empty!!!

  3. John David Galt:

    They have another ally. The otherwise reliable Congressional Budget Office, whose forecasts are trusted even by many small-government people, is forbidden by law to consider the possibility that Congress will not keep its promises.

  4. David Barak:

    This is the inversion of the Lewis Carrol phrase "jam every other day: jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today."