Republicans Pledge Austerity in New Congress

With a renewed sense of fiscal conservatism, incoming Republican congressmen promise to try to repeal ObamaCare and reform entitlement.

A new Congress convenes in the United States with Republicans in the majority in one chamber and Democrats in the other. The president and his party have interpreted November’s midterm election results as a call to compromise but Republicans are unlikely to be reasonable. Rather they have announced their intention to repeal legislation that was enacted during the last Congress; health-care reform being their priority.

Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan, who is set to become the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce this year, promised a vote to repeal Obamacare before the president delivers his State of the Union address later this month. “If we pass this bill with a sizable vote, and I think that we will, it will put enormous pressure on the Senate to do perhaps the same thing,” he said on Fox News Sunday.

Republicans have no majority in the Senate however and a repeal effort could very well end up being vetoed by the president. On Meet the Press, senior Republican Lindsey Graham raised the prospect of withholding funding for the new health law to stall its implementation. “One thing I’m going to do,” the senator from South Carolina added, “is allow states to opt out of the individual mandate, the employer mandate and the expansion of Medicaid.” The latter could bankrupt his state.

Even if Democrats still control the Senate and the White House, there is a lot Republicans can do. “We are going to be working together,” said Upton. “We are going to be looking to identify programs that don’t work; programs that ought to be cut.” Virtually every week, he promised, Republicans will propose reductions in federal spending.

Two critical votes early this year will test Republicans’ pledge to rein in spending, somehow.

In February, Congress is scheduled to enact a huge spending bill to keep the government running. Many incoming legislators have promised to cut discretionary domestic spending by up to $100 billion. Even if such a spending cut would reduce the deficit only minimally, the Democratic majority in the Senate may not accept it.

Speaker John Boehner will be even harder pressed to maintain discipline among his members when Congress has to raise the federal debt ceiling in the spring. The current debt ceiling, enacted last February, is $14.3 trillion. President Barack Obama’s budget for this fiscal year will topple the national debt of $13.9 trillion, necessitating the vote.

Letting the nation default on its debt could trigger another global financial meltdown but some Tea Party conservatives have already announced that they will vote against the measure to protest runaway federal spending.

On Fox News Sunday incoming Senator Mike Lee of Utah argued for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution to ensure fiscal discipline. “Congress has long abused the authority to incur debt in the name of the United States,” he complained. Incoming Congressman Allen West of Florida said not to favor a government shutdown on the same program but warned that he would only vote to raise the debt limit “if we also talk about budgetary controls on the federal government, capping its spending, how do we deal with the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid problems, because they cannot continue to run on autopilot.” Combined these entitlement programs account for approximately a third of federal spending.

Senator Graham similarly regarded the vote as an opportunity to make sure the government is changing its spending ways. He vowed to oppose raising the debt ceiling on Meet the Press unless presented with a plan that “will deal with our long-term debt obligations, starting with Social Security.” He hoped Democrats would be willing to consider entitlement reform “before it’s too late.”

According to the president, Republicans now share in the responsibility of finding long-term solutions to reducing the deficit. “Nobody, Democrat or Republican, is willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States government collapse,” he said last month. No one enjoys voting to raise the debt limit, he added. “But once John Boehner is sworn in as speaker, then he’s going to have responsibilities to govern. You can’t just stand on the sidelines and be a bomb thrower.”

Austerity measures that were introduced by the president’s debt commission in November have been rejected by the ruling party however. Raising the retirement age or privatizing entitlement is anathema to liberal lawmakers who, with Obamacare, have only expanded entitlement while in power. Most Republicans are similarly adamant in opposing cuts to defense spending which is another third of the budget.

Instead of reducing the size of government and help the economy recover, Democrats have expanded it, further curtailing job creation according to California Congressman Darrell Issa, who will chair the government oversight committee for the next two years. “We have about $1.7 trillion worth of regulatory costs already in the government,” he said on Fox News Sunday. “If the president wants to throw another $300 or $400 billion, what he’s doing is taking it right out of businesses, right out of employment, right out of competitiveness.”

Pat Toomey, who was elected senator for Pennsylvania in the fall, similarly blamed the Obama Administration for what he described as “regulatory overreach” on Meet the Press. “There are regulatory agencies trying to impose on our economy the things that Congress has rejected.” Toomey urged his fellow lawmakers to push back against the president’s energy agenda as well as regulation of the Internet.

In order to generate growth for the long term, Toomey suggested lowering America’s corporate tax rates which are among the highest in the world; banning congressional earmarks and reforming Social Security to allow young people to choose between public and private options. As for government spending, Issa pointed out that Brazil and countries in Europe are making cutbacks. “We need to do the same thing,” he professed. Toomey added, “I think there’s a lot of evidence that less government leads to stronger economic growth.” With unemployment still high and growth lacking, “there’s a majority that does want less government,” said the incoming senator.