By Lawrence Wilson
A federal budget for 2024 has passed the House Budget Committee just 10 days ahead of a potential federal government shutdown for lack of Congressional spending authorization.
Republicans praised the budget proposal as a step toward reigning in chronic overspending, which has led to $33 trillion in federal debt.
Committee Democrats, while agreeing that deficit spending must be reduced, criticized the measure for attempting to solve the problem by cutting spending on programs that help the poorest Americans while simultaneously preserving Trump-era tax cuts that benefit the wealthiest citizens.
The budget resolution passed 20-14 along party lines. All 15 amendments offered by Democrats were defeated.
The proposal comes amid a protracted debate among House Republicans over 2024 spending levels that has resulted in a series of delays in passing legislation, leading to fears that a government shutdown will be triggered at the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1 if Congress does not act.
Republicans titled their budget proposal “Reverse the Curse,” a reference to reversing the growth of the national debt, which they cast in existential, almost apocalyptic, terms, and place the nation on sound financial footing.
“Whether your concern is for the country or climate change and social safety net sustainability, or infrastructure and military readiness, a sovereign debt crisis would put all of these programs in peril,” Chairman Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) said.
“This is a defining moment,” Rep. Chuck Edwards (R-N.C.) said, speaking of the country’s need to stop the spiral of debt and find financial stability.
“Each of our lives and every civilization’s destiny is defined by decisions we make at key moments. It was such that defining moment when George Washington decided on that famous night across the Delaware. It was such that defining moment when each of our forefathers signed the Constitution.”
“We can’t go down the road of bankrupting this great nation,” said Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.). “This country is worth fighting for.”
The national debt is $33 trillion, which Republicans called unsustainable. Interest payments on the debt are projected to grow from $661 billion this fiscal year to $1.3 trillion in 10 years, according to Rep. Buddy Carter (R–Ga.).
The government must borrow 22 cents of each dollar it spends, Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) said.
The budget proposal is part of a 10-year plan that Republicans say will reduce deficit spending by more $16 trillion and reduce indebtedness by $14.6 trillion without harming Medicare or Social Security benefits. The result would be a balanced federal budget by fiscal year 2033, the first since 2001.
The proposal also calls for the creation of a bipartisan debt commission to further address the problem of the national debt.
Democrats had two primary objections to the Repbulican-backed proposal. The first was that it deviated from the bipartisan Fiscal Responsibility Act, a deal negotiated by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and President Joe Biden when resolving the debt-ceiling crisis in June.
“We are here because Speaker McCarthy has decided to renege on that piece of legislation that passed in June, and was signed into law,” Mr. Boyle said.
“What are we doing here, this is the this is the height of political theater. A deal is a deal. Your word is your bond,” said Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.), chiding GOP leaders for cutting spending to levels lower than previously agreed to.
Democrats also objected to cutting spending on programs that benefit the poor without attempting to increase revenue by increasing taxes on the rich.
“They entirely leave in place the Trump and Bush tax cuts to benefit them and their friends, which has cost over $10 trillion and are responsible for almost all of the increasing debt ratio,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Min.). “Permanently extending the Trump tax giveaway would benefit households in the richest 1 percent.”
“We cannot reduce our deficits to a manageable level just by cutting spending alone. We need to have a serious discussion about where we can responsibly raise revenues,” Mr. Boyle said.
Budget and Appropriations Processes
The federal budget is a blueprint for spending. It begins with a budget proposal from the president, which becomes the starting point for creating versions of the budget in the House and Senate. Those versions must be reconciled by the two bodies and then signed by the president. The appropriations process, which provides the authority for the government to spend money for specific purposes such as defense, homeland security, and agriculture, is a separate process that requires the passage of 12 appropriations bills.
House Republicans have labored to bring both processes to a conclusion before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
On Sept. 19, five members of the Republican caucus blocked consideration of an $826-billion defense appropriations bill due to concerns about the overall level of discretionary spending, which they would like limited to $1.471 trillion.
Given the impasse between GOP factions, Democrats on the Budget Committee wondered if the budget proposal they were voting on would find its way to the House floor.
“The current majority has failed to pass all but one appropriations bill and cannot even agree to partisan spending bills,” Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) said.
“So I urge Speaker McCarthy to work with the bipartisan to work on bipartisan appropriation bills which can actually pass the House and a bipartisan continuing resolution which can actually pass the Senate.”
“A shutdown forced by Republicans inability to govern costs the U.S. economy $6 billion every single week,” Mr. Boyle said.
Mr. McCarthy, speaking to reporters on Sept. 20, downplayed fears of a shutdown, saying that negotiations on a continuing resolution were ongoing.
“Members are already in the meeting, and they were making some progress,” Mr. McCarthy said.
“It’s not September 30. The game is not over. So we continue to work through it. I’ve been at this place many times before, and we’re going to solve this problem.”