Under President Donald J. Trump, Republicans had largely given up their austerity zeal and advocated a number of spending increases. But with a Democratic President in the White House, Senate Republicans are trying to reclaim the cloak of fiscal conservatism by passing several symbolic resolutions aimed at curbing federal spending.
In an internal party’s vote on Wednesday, the Senate Republican conference agreed that government credit restrictions should be accompanied by either spending cuts or cuts in entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. In 2019, with the support of the Trump administration, lawmakers agreed to suspend the statutory debt ceiling for two years without restriction.
Senate Republicans also reaffirmed an existing decade-old ban on ear tags, even as the House stands ready to revive the practice of allowing individual lawmakers to channel spending on specific projects for their counties and states in the legislature. House Republicans voted last month to lift a similar ban at their conference, as Democrats announced they would be bringing back the ear tags using strict new funds Transparency requirements.
The rules that govern the Republican Conference are not binding and largely symbolic, but they are indicative of Republican priorities.
“I definitely hope that every member of the Republican conference will comply with the terms of the conference,” said Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas.
The measures could lead to conflict with Democrats over President Biden’s infrastructure plan, the government’s ability to continue to borrow, and the dozen annual spending bills. The debt limit is another example: if Republicans stick by their rule, it could lead to a dead end in federal borrowing that could force the government to default on its debt obligations.
Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, told reporters that the debt ceiling resolution put forward by Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, was “ambitious”.
The loss of ear tags is viewed by many as a factor behind the deadlock that has plagued Congress. They were seen as a symbol of proprietary business and waste in government, and became increasingly toxic as a wave of self-proclaimed financial conservatives invaded Congress. However, the practice of allowing lawmakers to put funds in huge government funding bills for individual projects in their communities gives them the ability to reflect the needs of their constituents and a mechanism by which leaders can vote on the legislation tightly can refine.
“If you don’t want an ear tag, don’t ask for one,” said Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the Republican chief on the grants committee. “And even if you ask for one, you might not get one because the old days of ear tags are over – they’re gone.”