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The USA Act: Holding Congress Accountable for the Federal Budget

Reasserting lost Congressional authority has been a major theme this year, with the creation of the Article I Project and a House task force on executive overreach. Many legislators have taken charge in curbing the waste and latency plaguing the federal government, and Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA-5) is the latest to join the fight for such accountability.

On March 14th, McMorris-Rodgers introduced H.R. 4730, the Unauthorized Spending Accountability (USA) Act as a means to keep legislators accountable for programs being funded in the federal budget. In particular, the legislation targets unauthorized federal programs, that is, discretionary programs that have passed the expiration date of their authorization and yet are still being funded.

A recent report by the Congressional Budget Office found that, in fiscal year 2016, a total of 256 unauthorized programs are still being funded to the tune of $310.4 billion, with some programs being expired since the 1990’s. This includes $49.3 billion being spent on Energy and Commerce programs, $20.6 billion for programs dealing with Education and the Workforce, and, ironically, $479 million on Oversight and Government Reform programs.

The problem is, legislators will often allow these unauthorized programs to continue receiving funding without any comprehensive review of the programs’ needs. As such, the legislators surrender accountability, allowing wasteful programs to grow with absolutely no oversight. By funding unauthorized programs, government waste and excess will continue to trod along with no end in sight (leading many to describe these programs as “zombies”).

The USA Act is seeking to put a stop to this lethargic relinquishing of accountability. Specifically, the bill would enact automatic sequestrations for every year that a program goes unauthorized. The first year, 10 percent of the program’s funding would be cut, followed by 15 percent the second and third year. If a program remains unauthorized after three years, the USA Act would force the entire program’s budget to be cut.

Alongside these annual cuts, the USA Act would also create a Spending Accountability Commission to better analyze spending patterns and address areas of frivolous waste. This commission would look at both discretionary and mandatory spending (mandatory spending referring to things like entitlement payments), and recommend cuts in either area to fund unauthorized programs. By creating the commission and enforcing automatic spending cuts, legislators will be forced to look in depth at their spending habits and address unauthorized programs that should be cut and reduced, yet haven’t out of convenience.

Representative McMorris-Rodgers has introduced a very important, powerful bill that will increase accountability over rapidly-increasing federal programs and will help restore the power of the purse to the legislature. Speaking about the bill in an interview, McMorris Rodgers stated that “what we’ve seen from a lot of these [federal] agencies is that they become arrogant, they become disconnected from their mission, and this [the USA Act] restores the accountability with the elected representatives”.

FreedomWorks has already joined a group of fiscal conservative organizations in signing a coalition letter in support of the USA Act. This piece of legislation is a crucial step forward in bolstering the accountability of the legislature and in halting the budgetary creep by the federal agencies to gain more and more authority. With more steps like this, the people can regain authority, through an accountable government, in stopping the zombies of budgetary waste.