In the last continuing resolution, Congress increased baseline non-defense discretionary spending by $131 billion over the next two years. This was in exchange for $165 billion of new defense spending over that same period.
But rather than add to the existing baseline budget on the domestic side — adding tens of thousands of new federal employees to the bureaucracy or increasing entitlement spending — Congress could make a different choice, albeit one that is less than ideal.
For example, President Donald Trump has proposed a new infrastructure plan. Why would Congress vote to increase domestic spending in the upcoming omnibus spending bill and then come back to vote for massive infrastructure bill costing a few hundred billion more dollars?
They probably won’t. Congressional Republicans will already be reeling from increasing the spending baseline for domestic agencies. Asking for tens of billions of more dollars on top of that may be a bridge too far — meaning none of them will get fixed with new transportation dollars allocated by Congress.
Other important things that could be done in the area of building include hardening the nation’s electric grid against an electromagnetic pulse for, say, $7 billion. Without such hardening, if a nuclear explosion went off, it might be able to knock out the electric grid for months, meaning no water processing, no refrigeration, no food. Millions could die.
Congress could also decide to set aside about $20 billion or so to lay fiber optic cables alongside the interstate highway system and otherwise lay the groundwork for the coming 5G revolution that will make driverless cars and trucks and other gizmos possible.
Fiscal conservatives in Congress, in a well-intentioned but ultimately futile bid to veto the new spending, could surrender their votes to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, since if House Speaker Paul Ryan cannot get a Republican majority has to go to the left for votes.
To be clear, the limited government position is to not spend this money at all. But if that is not a viable option, and the money is going to be spent anyway, the fallback must be to spend it only once.