It’s a new era of Republican leadership in the House. Speaker Boehner is out, Speaker Ryan (R-WI-1) is in, and just in time for the budget process. Under the influence of the House Freedom Caucus, Republicans finally have a chance to do something about the outrageous spending that is rapidly bankrupting our country. It would all be terribly exciting… except that none of that is actually happening.
To the dismay of conservatives, Speaker Paul Ryan, along with House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA-6), has indicated that the forthcoming budget resolution will likely preserve the discretionary spending levels of $1.07 trillion agreed to in a September compromise between then-Speaker John Boehner and President Obama. Anything more ambitious than that, we are told, is simply not realistic.
Continuing to advance budgets that plunge us deeper into debt is to abdicate responsibility for our country’s security, at home and abroad. The pressure of unfunded liabilities and the national debt weakens both our domestic economy and our national defense. Speaking in 2010, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen said, “The most significant threat to our national security is our debt.” It’s a line he has repeated many times since then, as the debt situation has only worsened without an end in sight. Republicans should not be considering a budget that increases our debt, and thereby weakens our national security.
A budget deal at the numbers agreed to in September isn’t a serious proposal. The only justifications House leadership can have for such a plan is that real reform it is too hard to do now, Republican’s don’t control the White House, the weather isn’t perfect and the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908. Instead of a smart budget that addresses our fiscal emergency, the American people get compromise guarded by timid excuses.
What kind of budget should the House leadership support? Speaker Ryan knows, since he put this on his website:
“House Republicans have introduced and passed budget resolutions for five consecutive years that would tackle the looming debt crisis and restore economic growth. The budget that was introduced for FY 2016 by Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, ‘A Balanced Budget for a Stronger America,’ is a serious budget that addresses our needs and our overwhelming debt by achieving balance, repealing the Affordable Care Act, ensuring a strong national defense, and cutting waste while improving accountability.”
The FY 2016 budget Ryan is referring to called for spending cuts totaling $136 billion in the first year alone, and would balance in less than 10 years. It passed the House with 228 votes on March 25, 2015—less than one year ago. The question Speaker Ryan has to answer now is this: What’s changed?
Why were Ryan and Price willing to fight for spending cuts for the last five years, only to surrender now? Last year, Obama was still the president and Mitch McConnell was still the Senate Majority Leader. Why was Price’s proposal “a serious budget” then, but real reform now is portrayed as unrealistic fantasy?
When Democrats controlled the Senate and Republicans controlled the House, the voters were told both chambers were needed for real reform. We got that majority, and now we are told by Republican leadership that nothing can be done without a Republican in the White House. This indicates that many Republicans are unwilling to lead except under ideal circumstances—circumstances that may never arrive, and which Democrats have never been timid enough to wait for.
Real leadership means putting forward your best ideas regardless of circumstance and fighting for them. It’s true that Republicans are unlikely to get everything they ask for, but that’s better than asking for nothing at all. John Boehner’s tendency to negotiate with himself was one of the greatest sources of frustration for fiscal conservatives in the House. There’s simply no excuse for Ryan—who was elected Speaker partially on the strength of his budgetary vision—to fall into the same trap on his first major opportunity to do something meaningful.
As Ryan himself said in 2012, “If we simply operate based on political fear, nothing’s ever going to get done. If we allow entitlement politics—fear that your adversaries will turn your reforms into a political weapon to use against you—and we cow to that, then America’s going to have a debt crisis.” That was good advice then, and it remains good today. Speaker Ryan should follow his own counsel, and not that of politicians who wish away the storm clouds created by our fiscal irresponsibility.
Adam Brandon is the president and CEO of FreedomWorks.