Tax Fact #30: The Only “Emergency” is the Lack of Political Courage

Lacking the political courage to cut waste, redundancy and obsolete programs from their spending bills, House Appropriators have resorted to indefensible budget gimmicks in order to “comply” with the discretionary spending limits required by the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. In the past week, Appropriators have declared nearly $10 billion in spending for routine programs – such as the 2000 decennial census and veterans health care – as “emergency” spending, which does not have to be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget (meaning, it is funded with surplus dollars) and does not count against the discretionary spending caps.

Perhaps the most laughable of these “emergency” declarations is the $4.5 billion in funding for the 2000 decennial census which, after all, is required by the US Constitution and, thus, could have been predicted by members of the 1st Congress – let alone members of the current Congress. Had members of the Commerce, State, and Justice Appropriations Subcommittee had more courage, here are a few of the areas they could have found budget savings, rather than resort to budget gimmicks:

Corporate welfare: Last year’s Commerce, State, and Justice appropriations bill contains more than $2.6 billion in so-called “corporate welfare” spending, including $392 million for the Economic Development Administration, $647 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and $719 million for the Small Business Administration. But it appears the Appropriators chose to spend the surplus rather than cut corporate welfare.

Unauthorized programs: More than 80 percent of the funding in this year’s Commerce, State, and Justice appropriations bill, roughly $22.8 billion, is for programs that are not authorized by law or whose authorizations have expired. This includes more than 50 percent of the Department of Commerce’s $7 billion appropriation, 93 percent of the State Department’s $5.4 billion appropriation, and most of the Department of Justice. If Congress can’t see fit to authorize these programs, then perhaps it should just shut them down.

Members of the VA-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee also took the easy road by declaring $3 billion for veterans health care costs and $2.48 million for the Federal Emergency Management Agency as “emergency.” But they should have taken the advise of their own budget experts:

CBO Recommendations: The Congressional Budget Office’s annual Spending and Revenue Options contains more than a dozen reform recommendations for HUD and Veterans programs. If implemented, these program reforms could save as much as $2.3 billion in budget authority in FY 2000. Did the VA-HUD Subcommittee even consider these recommendations before it decided to spend the budget surplus on its “emergency” programs?

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