Republicans Back Sessions-McCaskill Caps

Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee backed the discretionary spending caps proposed by Jeff Sessions and Claire McCaskill yesterday, saying they would re-propose them at some point. While the caps do not freeze discretionary spending, they do represent significant reductions from where the President's budget and both the proposed House and Senate resolutions would be.

The Sessions-McCaskill caps have been voted down by just a few votes in the past, but it is unclear if this additional enthusiastic support will put them over the top since it is a few more Democrats who will need to come on board to get them passed.

The importance of these discretionary spending caps should not be understated, even if the driver of growing deficits in the future is mandatory spending. As we noted in this policy paper, discretionary spending actually grew faster than mandatory spending over the last decade. 

The graph below shows discretionary budget authority under each of the proposals. The House resolution is not shown because it only covers 2011; its level is just about the same as the Senate resolution. Note that this is budget authority, not outlays. Budget authority represents how much can be committed to be spent in the future, while outlays represent how much cash is actually spent within a given year (outlays can include budget authority from previous years). Discretionary budget authority is usually lower than the actual outlays; however, it is the only measure that the Sessions-McCaskill cap applies, so it is used here for an apples-to-apples comparison.


Note: The Senate resolution and Sessions-McCaskill estimates come directly from the bills, and the President's budget numbers come from OMB (minus war spending and adding in Pell grants).

The Sessions-McCaskill caps are significantly lower than all other major proposals out there, especially the President's budget.

It's great that the Republicans of the Appropriations Committee are getting their full weight behind the caps. In conjunction with (a more strengthened) PAYGO, discretionary caps are a proven way to get spending under control when Congress is unwilling to do so by itself. We hope that Sessions-McCaskill can finally make it over the top and get the 60 votes it needs to pass.