WASHINGTON, D.C. —
The fiscal cliff fiasco has been perhaps a fitting end to a year and a legislative session full of frustrating, down-to-the-wire legislative battles. Passing major legislation is often such a contentious, eleventh-hour process, it seems as if all of Washington is hopelessly dysfunctional. While this is largely true, there are a few congressional success stories worth highlighting.
Although newspapers and talk shows rarely mention it, Republicans in the 112th Congress managed to cut domestic discretionary spending for three fiscal years in a row — the first time since World War II this has been accomplished. Thanks to the failure of the previous Democratic Congress to pass a 2010 budget, the House Republican majority that took power in January 2011 had an extra opportunity to curb reckless spending. We used that opportunity to achieve the largest single-year spending cut in history when the 2010 budget was finalized in April 2011.
Granted, record spending cuts are only possible due to record spending levels. But spending is finally on a downward trajectory because the 2010 appropriations bill was followed by legislation that decreased spending for fiscal years 2011 and 2012. Spending was not only lower compared to the previous year but was $191 billion below President Obama’s budget requests. With $95 billion in spending cuts enacted since 2010 and $917 billion in projected savings over 10 years, discretionary spending is on track to match the lowest level of spending as a percentage of GDP since 1962.
The Appropriations Committee on which I serve has brought renewed focus to identifying bloated government programs and eliminating wasteful spending. Since 2010, the committee has had more than 300 hearings and markups to examine budgets and root out inefficiencies. This oversight and accountability has led to the elimination of more than 150 programs, saving taxpayers more than $2 billion. The committee itself has certainly not been immune from budget cuts. The committee has reduced its budget by 14 percent and its full-time staff by more than 20 percent. We’ve frozen pay for federal workers, including members of Congress.
Of course, much work remains. Reductions in discretionary spending are only one part of the puzzle. Almost two-thirds of federal spending is driven by Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Spending on these entitlement programs falls in the mandatory spending category and is not subject to the yearly appropriations process. No matter how much progress we make in reducing discretionary spending, we will remain in imminent jeopardy of a catastrophic debt crisis until we implement significant structural reforms to entitlement programs. This unavoidable mathematic reality is precisely why Republicans insisted throughout the fiscal cliff debate that President Obama and his party accept entitlement reforms.
The historic 2010 mid-term elections were driven by an American electorate fed up with decades of reckless spending, and the resulting House Republican majority made good on our pledge to break the cycle of yearly spending increases despite constant resistance from a president and Senate that remain mired in the liberal tax-and-spend habits of the past. The next and crucial step is tackling tax reform and entitlement reform. Just as we have throughout the 112th Congress and during the fiscal cliff debate, congressional conservatives will remain committed in 2013 to restoring fiscal sanity to Washington.
U.S. REP. TOM COLE, R-Moore, represents Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District.