As it faces key budget issues this fall, Congress — particularly the Republican majority — has taken different approaches to paying for programs that reflect its policy and ideological preferences rather than consistently apply standard budget rules, as we explain in a new paper.
Traditional budget rules are ideologically neutral. They treat spending and revenues the same way: both a spending increase and a tax cut, measured relative to a baseline, add equally to the deficit. They also treat adherence to the annual statutory caps on defense and non-defense appropriations the same.
In contrast, Congress’s recent approaches to paying, or not paying, for certain policies don’t reflect a coherent application of these budget rules, but rather reflect the majority’s policy and ideological priorities.
Taken together, the varied approaches seem to reflect a view that government spending outside of defense is dubious and should be resisted, while tax cuts and defense spending increases should be encouraged irrespective of how they affect the deficit. Erecting hurdles for needed non-defense spending that defense spending and the tax extenders won’t face could have a significant, and potentially detrimental, effect on the outcome of this fall’s policy debates.