The House and Senate both overwhelmingly approved a nearly $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the government through the fiscal year, but the conservative Club for Growth says the plan is a loser because it lifts the spending restraints Congress placed on itself less than three years ago.
"It's basically Congress breaking their pledge from 2011. In that year, they raised the debt ceiling in exchange for a lot of spending cuts. In those intervening years between 2011-2014, those spending cuts apparently were too unbearable for a lot of members of Congress," said Club for Growth Vice President of Government Affairs Andy Roth.
"This deal is the product of the Ryan-Murray deal that occurred in December, where they decided to get rid of part of those spending cuts so that they could increase spending immediately, and that's what this budget is," he told WND.
By a lopsided 359-67 vote in the House Wednesday and a 72-26 margin in the Senate Thursday, lawmakers easily approved the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. Many Republicans who backed the bill said they were concerned about the lifting of spending restraints but that the bill did contain cuts in funding for the IRS, the Environmental Protection Agency, Obamacare and the new health law's Independent Payment Advisory Board. They say it also brings discretionary spending back toward spending levels seen in the George W. Bush administration and that the overall tenor of the bill is in the right direction for fiscal conservatives.
"It's not in the right direction because had we stuck to the spending cuts that we promised voters in 2011, that bill that just passed would have been even smaller and it would have reduced the deficit even more," Roth said. "It is true that it is small relative to previous years, but that means it's because we've been successful at keeping the belt tight. What they're doing now is unwinding that belt.
"It may seem like just a small little increase in spending now, but this is all set up so that they can spend even more money in the year after next and the year after that," he said.
So how does he explain the large number of Republicans who backed the omnibus?
"We take kind of a cynical view of the politicians in Washington. I suspect at the end of the day there probably only are 67 , if we're lucky maybe 80 or 100, who are true, committed fiscal conservatives. I think the other Republicans that don't fall in that category vote with us from time to time, but they're certainly not reliable day to day," said Roth, who added that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is a brilliant man but not as conservative as many people think.
"Paul Ryan's rhetoric doesn't necessarily match his voting," said Roth, who noted Ryan scored a 71 with the Club for Growth and holds a lifetime rating of 86.
"Eighty-six percent isn't bad, but it's not good, either. He voted for a lot of the big spending bills during the Bush years. He voted for TARP with the Wall Street bailout. He's voted for a lot of pro-union bills, and he just orchestrated the Ryan-Murray deal which unwound a lot of the spending cuts we had already agreed to. So, there are, unfortunately, far more blemishes on his record than I think people are aware of," Roth said.
In addition to spending cuts in key areas, Republicans who backed the omnibus point to the realities of the current power structure in Washington, with the GOP controlling the House and the Democrats in charge of the Senate and the White House. They say winning more elections will improve the content of these bills even further.
Roth does admit the GOP has some limitations. He said there was plenty of interest in reconfiguring sequestration to allow spending levels to shift without changing the overall numbers, but Democrats had no interest in that. He also suggested his earlier comments about the reliable fiscal conservatives bring into question whether the Republicans really control the House.
All that aside, Roth said he hates to see GOP members use the power breakdown as an excuse because it fosters a defeatist attitude.
"That's kind of like surrendering before a fight. The House is the only chamber that has the power of the purse because they're the ones that start the ball rolling on all these appropriations bills. They have leverage. Now, they don't have an enormous amount of leverage, but they do have leverage and one of it is just to let the current law continue," Roth said.
In addition to the spending increases that he fears will materialize in the next few years, Roth said the GOP also surrendered the high ground for the upcoming debt ceiling debate.
"Yes, the Republicans have lost a lot of leverage, both with their own base and with the general public when it comes to cutting spending or at least tightening the fiscal belt in Washington," he said. "I don't think that they're as believable as they once were."