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A surrender to massive spending

Senate Republicans didn’t use their leverage to rein in a spendthrift administration

Senate Republican leaders speak to the press. Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin

A surrender to massive spending

One of the great frustrations American voters have with the current political parties is the endless bickering over so little principle. It often amounts to the mere maneuvering of two sides unwilling to solve problems and intent only on avoiding the blame. The recent “fight” over raising the nation’s debt limit is a perfect example.

After months of negotiations, which the public could be forgiven for mistaking as a debate about the nation’s finances, Senate Republicans agreed last week to a convoluted process to change the filibuster on a “one time” basis so that Democrats could pass a massive debt limit increase with just their own votes. Beating a filibuster now requires ten Republican votes on most types of legislation, ensuring (at least in theory) that Republican priorities are considered. In this case, an unrelated bill to stop a series of scheduled cuts to Medicare provider payments now was amended to provide a procedure to increase the debt limit later. The legislation actually provided a blank check as to the size of this future increase, which later turned out to be $2.5 trillion.

Of course, this process was designed to create a political fiction for Republicans to hide behind—one which allows them to argue that they were merely voting to stop Medicare cuts from occurring (and deny responsibility for raising the debt limit by trillions). Yet, the sole reason for the new procedure was to camouflage Republican responsibility for the shape and direction of our nation’s finances. It was designed to wipe their hands clean.

Now to be clear, there could and should have been a vigorous fight over raising the nation’s debt limit. That debt is now approaching $30 trillion, and the Biden Administration is proposing to add trillions more with its “Build Back Better” legislation. What better time to draw the country’s attention to what is affordable?

The public is experiencing the highest inflation since 1982—the latest monthly figure settling at nearly 7 percent—because of the government’s recent spending binge. And when such debt limit increases are debated public officials usually get temporarily serious about fiscal responsibility and attach either spending cuts or new rules to limit spending increases. Or, at least they want to look serious.

Back in 2010, President Obama was forced to swallow a multi-year framework of cuts in order to secure a debt limit hike during his administration, showing that there is good precedent for a Republican minority forcing a Democratic president to slow down a spending spree. This time, Republicans caved, and irresponsible spending increases sailed through.

Christians should expect more from our political leaders than this sort of cynical and dishonest legislating. In a representative system, with a high Biblical view of government’s role, where authority is “instituted by God” (Romans 13:1) for our good, we the people bear a portion of the responsibility for our government’s actions. That should propel us toward expecting statesmanship in our leaders, and their responsible stewardship of every opportunity to make gains that benefit the nation. But it should also cause us to swiftly reject legislative charades with no redeeming value to the country other than disguising inaction and complacency—the sort our political system now relies on to protect the political status quo.

In the book of Samuel, as Saul is being selected as Israel’s king, he could not be found. The people asked for an explanation, “and the Lord said, ‘Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage’” (1 Samuel 10:22). Saul wanted to escape the responsibility of his future office.

Senate Republicans have been given distinct roles in the present day to save this country from its rapid descent. They can stop much of the advance of the Biden Administration’s liberal agenda if they are willing to use their great influence, especially the power of the filibuster. Leveraging the debt limit would have been one such opportunity, but instead, they chose to hide among the baggage. The American people should demand far more from those we have elected to guard the public trust.

Russell Vought

Russ Vought is the president and founder of the Center for Renewing America and Citizens for Renewing America. Russ served as the 42nd director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Donald Trump. Prior to serving in the Trump administration, Russ spent nearly 20 years working in Washington, D.C., in Congress and with grassroots and public policy organizations. Russ graduated from Wheaton College in 1998 and from George Washington University Law School in 2004.

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