This month’s fight over government funding levels for the coming year never would have been necessary if House Republicans knew how to say yes. A look back at the budget disputes of 2013 illustrate how the current impasse is the result of conservatives moving the goal posts and demanding extreme austerity.
Here are three charts that show how Republican demands have intensified:
1. Discretionary spending is already below the baseline conservatives use. The arch-conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) has called for a discretionary spending freeze at fiscal year 2008 levels. Now, with spending well below those levels in both real-dollar and percentage-of-GDP terms, Republicans want more cuts. In fact, adjusting for inflation, the final two fiscal years of the Bush administration featured higher discretionary spending than did fiscal year 2013.
2. Senate Democrats proposed spending levels Republicans supported the previous two years, but Republicans demanded more cuts. The 2014 budget proposal passed by the Senate included $1.058 trillion for discretionary spending, right in between the spending levels in the 2012 and 2013 House Republican budgets. Republicans responded by proposing a further 8 percent reduction, to a bit below $970 billion.
3. Republicans have tried to cut everything except the military and farm spending. The House Appropriations Committee has proposed a to cut between 10 and 20 percent of the funding for transportation and housing, environmental regulation and maintenance, international affairs, health care, labor, education, financial services, and miscellaneous government activities. The only things it has proposed to fund at a higher level than it did last year were the Department of Agriculture and military spending on construction and veterans.
In nearly three years since the GOP retook the House and made debt panic stylish again, the deficit has shrunk dramatically, every piece of economic data has indicated austerity is harming the recovery and costing the country jobs, and the academic argument for being a debt hawk has collapsed under the weight of its own errors. Rather than shift their policy prescription in response to these facts, House leaders have retrenched around austerity to such a degree that they are now demanding cuts they themselves rejected just a year ago.