The 115th Congress hit the ground running just a week after being sworn in, introducing new legislation and beginning Cabinet confirmations. With ambitious goals ranging from Obamacare repeal to tax reform, new Members and veterans alike may give fiscal conservatives something to celebrate after a few long, hard years.
But hindsight remains important, and we can only hope that the new Congress learns from the lessons of the last. With united government, Congress can and should move forward to fix some of its biggest failures during the last term, while watching out for pitfalls that still exist.
With this in mind, let’s take a look back at some of the biggest struggles this year and why we are still optimistic heading into 2017. Partisan fights and a crowded schedule led to Congress yet again scrambling because of its:
- Failure to pass a budget
Once again, lawmakers did not finish the budget process before the September 30th deadline, forcing a continuing resolution that funded the government into December, and then another into April. The legislature has continuously failed to pass the 12 appropriations bills necessary every year, resulting in additional continuing resolutions and dysfunction. In 2017, fiscal conservatives should demand better. If lawmakers cannot keep their own rules, perhaps it’s time to rethink the rules themselves and giving reform a fighting chance. Instead, we got…
- Continuing resolutions that do little to curb spending
Both of the continuing resolutions passed in FY2017 keep spending levels at the baseline, and there were not serious reforms or measures to address the growing debt. What’s worse, they continued unaccountable spending in the Overseas Contingency Operations budget and elsewhere. The new Congress and President Trump should take these issues more seriously, and, at the very least, make serious efforts to get discretionary spending under control. Instead, discretionary waste continued along with a total…
- Failure to address mandatory spending
Remember when Republicans wanted to fix big, expensive programs? We do too, and in this era of united government, let’s hope Republicans remember their roots. Runaway programs that are set to collapse serve no one’s interest or financial security. Throughout 2016, though, both Presidential candidates failed to lay out real solutions to the skyrocketing cost of entitlement spending – in fact, both promised not to make major changes. The idea of Congress passing legislation to make these programs solvent was all but a distant dream. And while partisan standoffs may have been partially responsible, that excuse is largely gone this year, and fiscal conservatives should insist that leaders do not ignore looming problems.
With the national debt now hovering near $20 trillion, it has indeed been a tough time to be a fiscal conservative… but we are not discouraged. Here are just a few reasons why:
- Budget reform is back on the agenda
Leadership in Congress has been sounding the alarm about Congressional dysfunction for a while now. House Budget Committee Chairman Dr. Tom Price (R-GA) recently laid out his plan for reforming the budget, making it easier for Congress to finish the process and cut spending. Recently selected to serve as HHS Secretary, Dr. Price and his agenda for reform should continue to be on the forefront of policymakers’ minds. Right now, at least, it seems that the issues remain, as…
- Congress and the President-elect are vocal about addressing the debt
President-elect Trump brought up the nearly $20 trillion debt multiple times on the campaign trail and throughout debates. Some of his policies may increase the deficit and debt, but he has shown that he is open to cutting waste, fraud, and abuse throughout the federal government, even taking on wasteful programs that his own party tends not to address. Senator Mike Rounds (R-ND) has also brought up the debt as one of the biggest priorities for the new Congress, expressing the need to reform mandatory payments and interest on the debt.
- Repealing the Affordable Care Act is in the works
Congress seems to be serious about its plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act – almost immediately after President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in. Though there is debate over what a replacement plan will look like, it seems that this move would start to rein in the massive amount of government spending in the healthcare sector. The solution is not nearly in hand yet, but it is encouraging that Congress is apparently serious about moving forward with getting rid of this incredibly expensive and failing program.
What’s Next for the Cause?
Time and experience have shown that a united government can be a dangerous time for the cause of fiscal responsibility and limited government. Whether the 115th Congress continues unfortunate past trends or forges new ground ahead will depend on how much those passionate on the issue insist they go in the right direction. With a crippling national debt, serious insolvency looming in front of entitlement programs, and a broken, expensive healthcare system, we cannot afford to lose sight of this goal.