Opinion: On Capitol Hill, something has to change

I don’t care what your politics are — you should be rooting for Congress to change its ways when it comes to the federal budget.

Whether it’s addressing the national debt, now over $31 trillion, or the routine mess of a giant year-end funding bill, the process is not working.

“We must get spending under control,” said newly elected U.S. Rep. Mike Collins, whose father was representing Georgia in Congress the last time there was a balanced budget, back at the end of the Clinton Administration.

Unfortunately, the GOP record on the budget isn’t very good over the last quarter century. When Republicans were last in charge in the House, they started Donald Trump on the road to nearly $8 trillion in red ink during his four years in office.

But let’s take Republicans at their word. What would they do differently?

In recent days, we finally saw some of the budget deals agreed to by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, after his faceoff with more conservative GOP lawmakers.

The first goal is to propose a balanced budget. But it’s not a budget that balances next year, or even in five years. The GOP plan would be for a balanced budget by 2034.

That means at least another decade of red ink for Uncle Sam.

Another McCarthy promise is to roll next year’s budget back to spending levels in 2022. But that quickly ran into GOP resistance, because it would mean a $76 billion cut at the Pentagon, which no one believes will happen.

While Republicans denounced a spending increase approved late last year in a giant Omnibus funding bill, most of that extra money was for defense, not domestic spending programs.

One other GOP goal is to get their spending work done on time. Congress hasn’t passed all 12 government funding bills by an Oct. 1 fiscal year deadline since 1996 — when Georgia’s Newt Gingrich was the Speaker.

McCarthy also agreed to explore reforms to entitlement spending — finding ways to save money in Social Security and Medicare. Sounds simple, but it’s oh, so controversial, and Republicans know it.

No matter what House Republicans do, they’ll have to forge deals with Senate Democrats, which could lead to a standoff over the debt limit and maybe a lapse in government funding in October.

But by controlling the House, they have some leverage.

“Leverage is how Washington, D.C. works,” said U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens.

As always, the options are very basic on the budget. Cut spending, raise taxes, or do both.

It won’t be easy to reach a deal. But something has to change on Capitol Hill.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com

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