Why Rep. Moore thinks the budget fights in Congress miss the point

Congressman Blake Moore, who represents Utah’s 1st District, speaks while joining Benji Backer, president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition, at ACC's summit at the Marriott City Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 16, 2023.
Congressman Blake Moore, who represents Utah’s 1st District, speaks while joining Benji Backer, president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition, at ACC's summit at the Marriott City Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 16, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
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Utah Rep. Blake Moore wants fellow Republicans to end their civil war over annual spending bills and unify against an enemy that poses a much larger threat to the United States: permanent public programs that are drowning the country in its own debt.

The budget brawls that engulfed Washington, D.C., before fiscal year 2024 funding was finally passed six months late, did little to diminish the nation’s $34.6 trillion debt because the main drivers of deepening deficits are never voted on, Moore said.

“The reason why there’s so much bickering over this appropriations process is because it’s the only thing we vote on,” Moore said. “We do not vote on the major debt drivers of our federal government.”

What drives the national debt?

Money redistribution programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act make up half of the federal budget but automatically renew without congressional approval because of their “mandatory” classification.

While Moore, the newly elected vice chair of the House Republican Conference, sees plenty of political will among his Republican and Democratic colleagues to pick fights over specific spending provisions, he sees next to none to reform the programs that are pulling the country under even as they approach insolvency in the next decade.

During that time, federal spending is projected to increase from $6.4 trillion a year to $10.1 trillion with almost all of the increase attributed to Social Security, health care programs and interest paid on the debt, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

“Not only are we arguing over the small portion of the pie, we’re arguing over the portion of the pie that doesn’t grow at an exponential rate,” Moore told the Deseret News. “The mandatory budget grows at a massively high percentage.”

If Congress doesn’t redirect its focus to address the national debt trajectory, the dollar could stop being the money the world wants to invest in, Moore said. And if people stop buying U.S. government loans, how will the country continue to fund itself?

“That’s when it becomes very concerning to me,” Moore said. “Who’s to say that can’t happen when we’re carrying a debt-to-GDP ratio north of 100%.”

‘Worse than anything we experienced during World War II’

Unfortunately, Moore, who represents Utah’s 1st District, believes it will be harder for the nation to dig its way out of debt this time than it was after World War II — the last time the country’s debt was double the value of what it produced, or its gross domestic product.

“Our largest budget item in the conclusion of World War II was defense spending so we could more easily ramp down our debt-to-GDP because we could control what we were spending on defense,” Moore said. “We have a different makeup of our spending today than we did back in the 1940s and that’s the concerning part.”

Reducing the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio is Congress’ most important job, Moore said. And one it has largely failed to do with the exception of temporary spending caps like those imposed by the debt ceiling deal last summer.

The House Budget Committee, on which Moore serves, recently passed the Fiscal Commission Act which would force Congress to vote on policies proposed by a bipartisan debt commission of lawmakers and business leaders to reduce government spending and increase tax revenue.

But eight months after it was introduced, Moore can’t imagine the legislation getting a full House vote with a Democratic Senate and White House unlikely to consider it.

“I’m not seeing an ounce of motivation from President Biden on solving any of the major issues,” Moore said.

What can Congress do to reduce spending?

What Republicans can continue doing is try to reestablish “regular order” in the House budget process, scheduling time for each appropriations committee to craft their spending bills, allowing room for amendments and ensuring each bill comes up for an individual vote, Moore said.

The GOP House majority under former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., began scheduling the budget process in line with regular order before members of Moore’s conference “decided to kind of sabotage it and make it look like he wasn’t fulfilling that promise” as a reason to oust him from his position, Moore said.

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has tried to pick up where McCarthy left off, Moore said. House GOP leadership has scheduled a plan through the end of July to finalize all 12 annual appropriations bills so they can be voted on in the House, sent to the Senate and hopefully agreed upon before the Sept. 30 deadline.

Avoiding votes on last-minute spending packages cobbled together by legislative leadership is the best place to start to address federal spending, according to Moore. But no matter how much effort goes into voting on annual spending bills, federal debt will continue apace as long as the majority of the budget can’t be voted on at all.

“Some of my Republican colleagues they just want to complain about something and they’re frustrated with our debt and so they just go after the one thing that we actually vote on. But it’s not a part that actually can solve the problem,” Moore said.