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On Congress: The Senate this week will consider H.R. 3009, the “Andean Trade Act.” This bill represents the beginning of an extended trade debate in the Senate and would grant trade preferences to four Andean nations. As part of this international commerce debate, the Senate may also take up this week the renewal of presidential fast-track authority and health insurance subsidies.
The House will debate H.R. 2871, the “Export-Import Bank Reauthorization Act of 2002.” Later in the week the House will take up H.R. 3994, the “Afghanistan Freedom Support Act of 2002,” to provide over $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan.
Shake Your Money Maker – It is Time to Spend More!
Sometime in the next couple of weeks, the House and Senate are expected to pass a supplemental spending bill. These measures, as the name suggests, are bills that are added to past spending bills to supplement the funding. Created to address emergency events that happen mid-year such as extreme flooding or famine, they have instead become an annual tradition. This year’s supplemental bill focuses on the relatively new War on Terror and bolstering our nation’s defenses. As submitted by the President, the request totals $27.1 billion. Big ticket items include: $14 billion for defense purposes, $5.3 billion for New York, $5 billion for Homeland Security and $1 billion for International Assistance. While questionable as to whether or not these requests represent legitimate expenditures of the federal dollar – at least there is a valid crisis to point to in requesting the additional funding.
Unfortunately, many Members of Congress are never satisfied to let any spending bill pass without putting their fingerprints all over it. They see any spending bill - whether for a national emergency or regular spending - as an opportunity to fund their pet projects and maybe bring home the bacon! Some potential additions being discussed for the supplemental include: Pell Grant funding, ballot counting systems, aid to Israel, and non-emergency spending for the Center for Disease Control. While these projects may have some utility as a federal program, why should they be lumped in to a bill that is supposed to be used for emergency purposes only? Could it be because this legislation is on a fast track for consideration and represents a high priority for the President?
Once again, Congress is losing sight of their fiduciary responsibilities. Instead of using this as an opportunity to pass the minimum of what is absolutely necessary to bolster homeland security and fund our defense system, they instead want to use this bill as a Christmas tree to attach their pet projects. What makes this even more maddening is that the appropriations bills are right around the corner. Lawmakers will have plenty of time during the development and consideration of the appropriations measures to add in their parochial projects – but they just can’t pass up the opportunity. Realizing the potential for Congressional abuse, President Bush has preemptively issued a veto threat against any bill that exceeds his $27.1 billion request. However, do not underestimate the cunning of the House and Senate appropriators – there are many ways to get around budgetary restrictions and I am sure they will be tried.
In summary, supplemental spending bills on the whole only serve to create further abuse of the government funding system. Last year, Congress spent over $700 billion in discretionary funds yet they find themselves continually going back to the well to allocate themselves more money. However, that said, if a supplemental spending bill proves necessary, only fund those items that truly represent an emergency or where a shortfall is expected. Don’t pork the bill up with miscellaneous, unnecessary projects just because it is there.
Action Item: Call or email your Representative in the House and both of your Senators. Tell them that you are tired of Congress spending without any limit. The President has requested $27.1 billion and that is the maximum that you want spent in the supplemental.