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Another Voice: Federal spending caps are keeping spending in check

By Marc Short and Andy Koenig

Members of Congress have until Sept. 30 to pass a federal funding bill for the next year or face a possible government shutdown. Unfortunately, a growing number from New York want a budget that abandons the bipartisan spending levels Congress established four years ago.

In 2011, bipartisan majorities in Congress joined with President Obama to pass the Budget Control Act. The law established annual caps on how fast Washington can increase spending on the one-third of the federal budget that doesn’t go to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs.

Both parties supported this law because government spending was – and is – out of control.

The national debt increased from less than $6 trillion in 2001 to over $14 trillion in 2011. Today, it’s more than $18 trillion – a growth of more than 200 percent under just two presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Every taxpayer in New York now owes more than $154,000 and rising. As the debt grows, it slows economic growth, makes tax increases on the middle class more likely and threatens Americans’ well-being for generations to come.

The Budget Control Act is a small first step toward addressing this crisis. Its caps have contributed to recent decreases in annual federal deficits, which fell from $1.3 trillion in 2011 to an expected $426 billion in 2015. They are also partially responsible for the consecutive decreases in federal spending in 2012 and 2013 – a feat last seen in the mid-1950s.

Yet both Republicans and Democrats have concocted reasons why hardworking New York taxpayers should once again be on the hook for higher spending. Members of both parties spent August telling their constituents the Budget Control Act is “draconian” and “arbitrary.”

This doesn’t square with the facts. Under the law, the federal budget will still increase every year. The caps on non-entitlement spending will rise by $240 billion in just the next decade. Over the same period, the two-thirds of the federal budget that goes to entitlements and interest payments will increase by 68 percent – or $1.5 trillion.

To put it another way: Washington’s spending addiction still needs to be addressed. Even with the Budget Control Act in place, the Congressional Budget Office estimates annual deficits will climb back above a trillion dollars within a decade.

This is precisely why the Budget Control Act was passed in the first place. It is a first step toward getting our lawmakers in Congress to set priorities and live within their means, just like the rest of us do. If they break the law’s budget caps, they will only break their promise to New York taxpayers.

Marc Short is president and Andy Koenig is senior policy adviser at Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce.