Opinion: Why it's hard to believe Jon Ossoff will cut spending in Washington

I have to admit, when I first heard Democrat Jon Ossoff was basing part of his campaign in Georgia's 6th Congressional District on cutting $16 billion in wasteful and redundant federal programs, my first thought was: "Not bad … in which agency?"

Then I realized he was talking about the entire federal government.

You know, the federal government that will spend about 250 times that amount this year alone.

OK, you might say, but we’ve got to start cutting somewhere, right? And I might agree. But let’s now consider just how likely it is that a 30-year-old who’s trying to get elected with millions of dollars raised by Nancy Pelosi and left-wing activists from outside Georgia would fulfill such a promise.

A good place to start evaluating that question is the reaction from Pelosi's Democrats to the spending bill Congress recently finalized. That spending bill, which covers only discretionary programs, comes to $1.07 trillion . President Donald Trump had called for cutting these programs by $18 billion. That's hardly draconian, but it's a bit more than Ossoff's figure.

Instead, discretionary spending will grow by $3 billion over last year. Why? Because Democrats took advantage of a divided GOP caucus — a dreary subject for another day — to demand certain items in exchange for their votes. Items such as:

  • no cuts to Obamacare's "Cost Sharing Reduction" subsidies, which come to about $10 billion;
  • no cuts to Community Development Block Grants, which run another $3 billion;
  • a $2 billion boost for the National Institutes of Health;
  • continued funding for Planned Parenthood, which collects more than $500 million;
  • a Medicaid bailout for Puerto Rico, with a price tag of $296 million;
  • a reduced cut for the Environmental Protection Agency, which keeps $190 million in place;
  • $100 million for California's beleaguered boondoggle of a high-speed rail project;

Altogether, that's $16 billion in specific spending Ossoff's Democrats demanded this year. That doesn't include some $27 billion in federal spending that goes to so-called sanctuary cities, which the Trump administration wants to cut. Language to allow such cuts was left out of the newly approved bill.

Nor does it include the vast majority of continued funding for all of Obamacare, which Ossoff wants to keep intact. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the original version of the American Health Care Act, the GOP's repeal-and-replace bill, would reduce annual budget deficits by an average of more than $33 billion over the next 10 years (although an updated score for the version that passed the House on Thursday was not yet available).

There’s a theme here. The caucus Ossoff would join in Washington is never in favor of actually reducing spending. Even when D.C. Democrats can find certain items they’re willing to cut, those are usually intended as down payments on far larger spending increases elsewhere. Not to be returned to taxpayers in the way of tax cuts, to name one possibility, or to reduce federal borrowing, to name another.

When you raise $8 million (and counting) for a campaign, you can afford to poll-test some messages. And it’s clear the Ossoff campaign learned voters in the 6th District traditionally vote for Republicans because they favor traditionally Republican policies.

The question is why those voters would count on a Democrat, boosted by those who favor traditionally Democratic policies, to deliver what they want.