Watching Congress try to budget is like watching an episode of "My 600-lb Life," that show where the super-morbidly obese try to live healthy before their weight consumes them entirely.
Our corpulent Congress talks about cutting spending, about eating metaphorical vegetables instead of donuts when they budget. And like the obese, they inevitably fail. Only now, in this legislative version, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., wants to end the diet.
"Virtually every Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee has said they want to repeal sequestration, maybe every Democrat in the Senate" Cotton said of his proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. "I gave them the perfect vehicle to do so because it didn't only repeal spending cuts for defense but also for non-defense as well."
That effort failed when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, by Cotton's telling, "twisted arms to the breaking point." Democrats skipped an opportunity to end the automatic and painful budget cuts in order to get "more leverage for budget negotiations in November and December."
Cotton will try to end sequestration, to end congressional dieting, at a later date. And during a meeting with the Washington Examiner editorial board, the defense hawk defended the idea. "They always lift the caps and therefore push out the sequester," Cotton explained, pointing to recent history. "[That] makes it very hard for the Department of Defense to budget appropriately."
Since Republicans forced former President Barack Obama to sign the Budget Control Act of 2011, which forces sequestration cuts if spending caps are eclipsed, Congress has been cheating. At the last minute, lawmakers always strike a deal to raise spending limits and disregard the diet. That sort of crash budgeting always harms the military most.
After passing over his amendment to end the diet altogether, Cotton says he hopes Democrats "can look the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines in the eye the next time they return to their states."
But who is going to look the next generation in the eye? Who is going to tell them that their future has been mortgaged? Who will send them the receipts for the ballooning the $20 trillion in debt?
Clearly the budgeting process needs fixing. Obviously it stretches the military thin. That repeated failure shouldn't justify future mistakes, though. As one of Cotton's closest colleagues, Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., points out "the greatest threat to national security is our own federal debt." Even Secretary of Defense James Mattis agrees.
"We don't want a military that just breaks the bank, but at the same time, we cannot solve this debt problem on the backs of our military alone," Mattis told Perdue during his confirmation hearing. "I consider it an abrogation of our generation's responsibility to transfer a debt of this size to our children."
Mattis and Perdue are right. The military shouldn't be forced to shoulder the spending cuts by itself. Fiscal health requires a balance of defense and nondefense spending portions. Just because Congress failed to live within its means in the past, just because lawmakers cheated doesn't mean Congress should end the diet completely like Cotton proposes.
Republicans control Congress and should live under budget caps. And if they fail, they should accept sequestration as a healthy consequence.
The federal government is gorging itself to death. Now is not the time to rip up the diet.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.