In Debt Limit Fight, Republicans Shouldn't Rerun Same Spending Playbook | Opinion

With the United States once again breaching its debt limit, congressional Republicans have three choices in how to respond.

First, they can cave to demands from President Joe Biden by passing a "clean" debt limit increase, which would continue America's steady march toward insolvency. Second, they could devote most of their energy and political capital toward pushing for reforms to Social Security and Medicare, thus ceding the political high ground to the Democrats.

Or Republicans could choose a third option: Focus on cutting funding for the large swaths of the federal bureaucracy that are actively working against the interests of the vast majority of the American people. This path, and not the other two, is the only viable one that offers a politically realistic chance of both restraining government spending and achieving tangible conservative victories.

The evidence of America's fiscal brokenness is everywhere. Inflation—a phenomenon thought by some to have been relegated to history—is now running at 40-year highs, making life significantly more expensive for average Americans. The nation owes $31 trillion and counting, and the interest the Treasury Department must pay is steadily marching ever-higher. The very notion of "fiscal discipline" itself might as well be in a time capsule.

Even holding that seeming anachronism aside, there are some serious challenges facing any renewed effort to deal with America's fiscal nightmare. As dire as our fiscal situation is, another immediate threat facing the American people cannot be ignored: an increasingly woke and weaponized government.

The global COVID-19 pandemic made it painfully obvious that a small scientific cabal could shut down the economy and mandate an experimental drug be jabbed into someone's body as a necessary precondition of participation in society. On the heels of this is the now-growing awareness that the national security apparatus is arrayed against the half of America not willing to bend the knee to the people, institutions, and worldview that constitute the current governing regime. Instead of fulfilling their intended purpose of keeping the American people safe, the security state is now hardwired to view many of the people they exist to protect as sworn enemies. This includes a weaponized FBI persecuting everyone from pro-life activists to parents concerned about perverse ideologies indoctrinating their children.

Furthermore, the nation is just beginning to wake up to the threat of a century-long cultural revolution that divides the country on the basis of race and "identity" while disintegrating our institutions from within by teaching younger generations to hate their country. The federal bureaucracy is a major funding source of this self-destructive movement through lucrative grants and contracts, as well as fostering incentives for private businesses to coercively regulate the narrative around cultural issues—and, ultimately, civilizational survival.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R) speaks
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R) speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill, May 23, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The U.S. is even exporting this toxic ideology to other countries by funding gay pride events and LGBT activists in other countries under the guise of foreign aid. Even some of the $110 billion spent in support of Ukraine is being weaponized against Americans. Take one example: The Zelensky regime has implemented a blacklist of Americans who question the Biden administration's support of the increasingly autocratic Ukrainian government.

In short, America cannot be saved unless the grip of woke and weaponized government is broken. That is the central and immediate threat facing the country—the one that our statesmen must now rise tall to vanquish. Thus, the main priority of congressional Republicans in the upcoming fight over the debt limit should be to deliberately link the effort to rein in out-of-control spending with the removal of the scourge of a woke and weaponized bureaucracy.

Over the last two decades, the debates about fiscal responsibility have been mired in the quicksand of strategic incompetence. Many budget reformers have shared a conviction that because Social Security and Medicare are large drivers of spending, fiscal seriousness demanded they be the lead ox to be gored. Never mind the public's perception that they had paid into trust funds and knew lawmakers had been dipping into these surpluses for decades to fund their domestic pet projects or endless wars abroad.

As this conviction took hold, many budget reformers lost their bearings. They forgot that while they had no real leverage to tackle mandatory spending, there were better opportunities to tackle the discretionary spending that funds the federal government bureaucracies. As a result of this amnesia, no serious spending reduction on either side of the budget ledger has transpired in decades.

Additionally, despite claims to the contrary from some so-called budget hawks, there are significant savings to be had by substantially trimming or outright cutting these discretionary programs. This is demonstrated in the budget roadmap put out by the organization I now lead, which sets a path to balance the federal budget in 10 years by prioritizing the dismantling of the woke and weaponized bureaucracy, instead of cuts to Social Security or Medicare benefits.

Congressional Republicans should therefore focus their efforts on the spending that is the easiest to cut, both politically and morally. The American people are simply not going to buy the notion that their earned entitlements must be tweaked while the federal government is still funding Bob Dylan statues in Mozambique, gay pride parades in Prague, and a proxy war against a nuclear power in Eastern Europe. Programs like these and the woke bureaucracy that sustains them must be dismantled before changes to mandatory spending are made more politically palatable to the American people.

Republicans in Congress have a real opportunity to demonstrate they have learned from their past failures on government spending and pursue a different strategy that prioritizes restoring fiscal sanity while constraining a government increasingly working against the interests of the American people. If Republicans instead choose to rerun the same old spending playbook from the past two decades, they will not only fail to put our country on a better financial footing, but will once again demonstrate to voters that they aren't worthy of support.

Russell Vought is the president of the Center for America Renewing and was President Donald Trump's director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.