- - Monday, August 26, 2013

Shortly after returning from August recess, Congress will consider a continuing resolution that will fund the federal government past Sept. 30. This is a critical time for Congress to look beyond the politically charged rhetoric and live up to its past agreement to get federal spending under control. Congress must limit overall discretionary spending to $967 billion, the level that it agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011 in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

Both parties have already agreed to these levels, both chambers have already passed them, and the president has signed them into law. Adhering to current law should be a no-brainer, but few things are that easy in Washington. Alarmingly, some lawmakers want to break their promises and go back to profligate stimulus spending.

One problem is that the Senate clearly shows little support for living up to past spending agreements. The Senate budget plan calls for an increased spending level of $1.058 trillion, well exceeding the discretionary spending caps established in the Budget Control Act. The upper chamber also neglected to move a single appropriations bill across the floor this summer, giving up on any pretext that it is committed to regular order in the federal budget process.

Precedent is also in the way: In January’s fiscal-cliff deal, the White House and Congress agreed to “turn off” sequestration for two months through a combination of tax increases and promises to cut spending even further in the future. The future is now. It is time for Congress to deliver on its promise — no more kicking the can down the road indefinitely.

President Obama has continued to express chagrin over the law he signed, which outlines that next year’s discretionary level will be $967 billion. Following his fiscal-cliff tax hikes, the president memorably (and falsely) began to lay out a parade of horrible scenarios that would occur if the Budget Control Act and sequestration levels stayed in place. Despite the Obama administration’s best effort to make the cuts “hurt,” no horrible consequences have resulted, except for some canceled White House tours. Now the president is threatening to veto any continuing resolution that keeps the levels in place, opting for a government shutdown instead of sticking to his previous agreement. For a man who likes to rail about not fighting old political battles, this threat rings especially hollow. Whatever happened to bringing change to Washington and stopping gridlock?

However, the House of Representatives stands as the best option to help everyone else in Washington live up to their promises. Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan kept sequestration in place in his budget resolution, unlike his counterpart on the Senate side, Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers used $967 billion as the level for sundry bills in his committee. Although the overall levels were in line with past agreements, the House was unable to get more than four of the appropriations bills across the floor.

Now, Mr. Rogers would prefer to go back to higher spending level. This would be a big mistake and give back the best victory small-government advocates have had since the Obama-Reid-Pelosi crowd took control of Washington. After House leadership pulled the transportation, housing and urban development appropriations bill because too many Republicans objected to its spending levels, Mr. Rogers griped, “Sequestration — and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts — must be brought to an end.”

There are more than 2 million Americans For Prosperity activists living in all 50 states, and they will be closely watching Congress‘ actions on the upcoming continuing resolution. They didn’t elect their senators and representatives to break promises and squander hard-earned tax dollars, but that is precisely what they’re poised to do in September. American households and businesses are stretched too thin as it is — now is not the time for higher spending.

Sequestration is admittedly not the smartest way to cut spending, but until the Senate and the president come to table in good faith to rein in out-of-control entitlement programs, it’s the best tool we have to keep government spending in check. The continuing resolution must keep that check in place.

Christine Harbin Hanson is a policy analyst at Americans For Prosperity.