The Murray-Ryan deal: pulling the pin on the debt grenade

One of the many moral and practical objections to the kind of large-scale deficit spending our political class has grown comfortable with is that big deficits are a form of taxation without representation.  The bill comes due eventually.  Today’s deficits are tomorrow’s tax increases, and the people expected to pay those taxes never got a chance to vote on them.

I’m not just talking about generations unborn, children below the voting age who will come of age in a future dominated by $30 trillion or more in debt.  Those children will be indentured to the debt mountain we leave them.  Their life choices will be sharply circumscribed, in matters ranging from corporate business decisions to individual lifestyle.  Not very long from now, the cost of merely servicing the national debt will consume the entirety of today’s discretionary spending.  The monster government created by all this deficit spending will not simply accept that entitlements plus debt service consume every taxpayer dollar, and begin dismantling all those lovely bureaucratic fortresses dotting the Potomac.  Trillions of dollars in taxes on top of what we’re already paying will be charged against our children when they grow up, devouring much of the private sector, leaving them with sharply reduced opportunities for work and investment.  It’s not hard to understand that when much of the peoples’ work product is seized and directed toward mandatory government spending, little freedom remains.

But we don’t have to look twenty years ahead to see how deficit spending becomes taxation without representation.  It happens over the course of just a few years.  It happens every time someone like President Obama pushes for tax hikes on the grounds of “deficit reduction” or “fiscal responsibility.”  Yes, it’s absurd to watch history’s biggest spender – the man who couldn’t wait to pump billions into ludicrous “green energy” schemes run by his big contributors – tug on his threadbare Deficit Hawk costume and lecture us on the need for responsibility.  But it works fairly well, and it will work better as the debt crisis grows worse.  The media will always be strongly receptive to the argument that fiscal responsibility equals tax hikes.  Just toss in a few vague promises of spending cuts tomorrow, and the deal is sealed.

Of course, the spending cuts never actually happen.  One of the worst things about the budget deal struck between Democrat Senator Patty Murray and Republican Representative Paul Ryan is that it endorses this tired old scam.  Their deal says government will spend more over the next couple of years, but then a future Congress will buckle down with some awesome spending caps, and by the time we reach 2024, we’ll have reduced the deficit by $28 billion.

$2.8 billion a year is less than the annual billion-dollar waste and fraud from any two of your favorite federal agencies.  It’s a tiny fraction of the $700 billion to $1 trillion deficits we’ll be running in each of those years.  I tend to think the current estimates for the deficit are far too low, because there’s a lot of spending yet to come in ObamaCare, most likely including an enormous insurance company bailout.  But even the best-case project says we’ll pack on another $8 trillion in debt flab while Murray-Ryan champions boast of trimming a few ounces with their $28 billion diet plan.  This is like a morbidly obese person attempting to lose weight by getting a haircut… and stuffing his face with Twinkies while he sits in the barber’s chair.

Republicans are doing real damage to the conservative cause by perpetuating the silly notion that a few billion in pocket change represent any sort of achievement in fiscal stability.  They should not lend their signature to any plan that perpetuates the absurd fiction of “out year” spending restraint.  What’s really going to happen under the Murray-Ryan “compromise” is that Big Government will spend some $70 billion more over the next couple of years… and then Democrats will take their best shot at trashing whatever spending caps were promised for the future, with more than a few Republicans happily joining in the effort.  At best, they’ll demand fat new tax increases as the “price” for imposing any portion of the promised spending restraint, and citizens of 2017 or 2018 will be told they have no choice but to submit, if they’re serious about “fiscal responsibility.”

We just saw this tired old con game play out in the “fiscal cliff” drama.  Why is any Republican signing up for a repeat performance?  They should understand by now that spending has momentum.  Deficit money doesn’t get spent on one-time, one-shot deals that quietly disappear when fiscal discipline is imposed.  That money is used to create programs which swiftly accumulate perpetual dependents, and hire government employees who add to Big Government’s voting muscle.  Every year we allow this to continue makes it that much harder to stop.  When Rep. Ryan and his crew come looking for the promised return of sequestration in a few years, they’ll be told how many hapless citizens will suffer without Program X, and how much unemployment will spike if everyone who works for Program Y gets their walking papers.

We are told the puny spending restraint of sequestration is unbearable today.  A modest reduction in the growth of spending causes Big Government to howl in agony, like Gollum squalling at the intolerable burning touch of elven rope.  Who really thinks the government will be more ready to accept the same restraint in a couple of years?  Especially since the Murray-Ryan deal sets the precedent for replacing sequestration spending restraint with more income in the form of targeted tax increases…. er, excuse me, “user fees.”  The Transportation Security Agency is one of the most bloated and widely disliked bureaucracies in the federal government, and also one of the youngest.  But Republicans are okay with imposing a tax hike to keep it just the way it is now?

Like all of these big bipartisan deals, the Murray-Ryan compromise includes a few little surprises its authors didn’t see fit to mention.  One of these buried nuggets of power was just uncovered by Senate Republican researchers, as related by National Review:

The bill includes language from the Senate Democrats??? budget that voids senators??? ability to raise a budget ???point of order??? against replacing the sequester cuts with tax increases.

The process is quite complicated, but in practice it grants Harry Reid the authority to send tax increases to the House with a bare majority, rather than the 60-vote threshold that would be required under a point of order.

The provision has angered key Republican senators. Reeling from Harry Reid???s unprecedented use of the ???nuclear option??? to end the filibuster on executive-branch nominations, they are dismayed that Paul Ryan would have backed another limit to their power.

???This is an appalling power grab that should never have been allowed to be in a final agreement. It???s essentially the ???nuclear option??? part two, eroding minority rights in the Senate even further. Harry Reid must be very happy,??? a Senate GOP aide says.

The last thing we need is a measure that makes tax increases easier, combined with a plan to spend more over the next two years, adding strength to the next furious demand for higher taxes in the name of fiscal responsibility.  With all due consideration for the political strategy of avoiding a shutdown fight that would give Democrats political relief from the rolling disaster of ObamaCare, this is the sort of principle Republicans should be willing to go to the mat over.  We have to stop playing this stupid game.  We have to help the American people understand how badly they are being taken advantage of.  The principle of taxation with representation is crucial to the American understanding of government.  Telling people they can have all sorts of goodies for “free,” and then socking them with the bill an election or two later, voids that understanding.

It would be one thing to accumulate a large debt while protecting the nation from a sudden existential crisis, but everything is considered a “crisis” now.  I’m sure all sorts of fresh “crises” will be discovered to justify more “emergency” spending when the scheduled return of sequestration arrives.  I know Paul Ryan knows that.  He also knows the hour grows late to put an end to the wanton accumulation of debt, to provide funds for the further massing of irresistible obligations, as standard operating procedure for a government that has no idea how it could possibly survive on the funds We the People have agreed to provide it.