As the holiday season comes to a close, Republicans and Democrats are opening the new year by resuming debate over a measure to fund the government through the end of 2018.
The two sides failed to reach a compromise before the end of the year on such thorny issues as protection for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and funding for a wall on the southern border. But in addition to these sticking points, the two sides also appear to disagree over exactly how much the government should grow.
According to Reuters, the White House is pushing for massive increases in military spending along with a 7 percent increase in overall non-discretionary non-military spending, while Democrats are holding out for an 11 or 12 percent increase in non-discretionary spending.
It should be noted that almost no one in either branch of government on either side is attempting to actually reduce the size of the government or its budget.
Even the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which has in the past threatened to use its leverage to shut down the government in exchange for spending cuts, appears to have accepted the White House’s proposed spending levels.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a prominent Freedom Caucus member, appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday and praised the Trump administration’s fiscal restraint (as compared to the Democrats) for only asking for a 7 percent increase in non-discretionary spending.
Because Republicans have already used reconciliation to pass the tax reform bill, they cannot pass another bill via simple majority this fiscal year, which means that any government funding plan will need support from multiple Democrats in the Senate before it can pass.
In other words, if Democrats hold the line in the Senate, Republicans may face the specter of a government shutdown over the DACA issue, or if they do not reach a compromise with Democrats on exactly how large the government should grow in 2018.
Additionally, President Donald Trump has promised to push for a massive infrastructure spending bill, which will likely attract enough Democratic support in the Senate to pass. The current White House plan calls for $200 billion in additional federal spending on infrastructure spending over the next 10 years.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has promised to tackle “entitlement reform” in 2018, but any bill that reduces spending on Medicare or Social Security will almost certainly be defeated in the Senate by a Democratic filibuster; therefore, entitlement reform is likely a dead issue until at least the end of the fiscal year, which is Sept. 30.
Since Republicans will be facing an election a few weeks after the start of the fiscal year, the chances that Ryan will be able to successfully convince enough Republicans in the House and Senate to use reconciliation to force through cuts in Medicare and Social Security in 2018 seems remarkably low.
No one really knows what 2018 will bring, but it seems that it definitely will not bring a smaller federal budget.