Only in Washington could nearly $700 billion fester as Congress scrambles for cash.
Earth to the congressional leadership: There is precisely $687 billion in federal coffers, officially “unobligated” and, thus, available. Nonetheless, Democrats and Republicans are clobbering each other over how to finance a $185 billion one-year extension of the payroll-tax holiday to help Americans survive today’s economic hardship.
Predictably, Democrats hope to use this occasion to slap a ten-year, 1.9 percent surtax on those who earn at least $1 million. This would amplify their new battle cry: “Class war!”
Surprisingly, Republicans have proposed to raise Medicare premiums for prosperous seniors. Affluence testing of entitlements is long overdue. But without preparing the public, especially seniors, for this wise move, the GOP will bare itself to a brand-new round of left-wing lies, e.g., “Nothing gives Republicans more intense pleasure than starving Granny and shoving Gramps down the nearest storm drain.”
Meanwhile, tax hikes are even dumber than usual today, as the economy suffers nagging chest pains.
Instead, House and Senate leaders should visit Budget.gov, the Office of Management and Budget’s website, and inspect a document sizzlingly titled “Balances of Budget Authority — Budget of the U.S. Government: Fiscal Year 2012.”
Chart 2 lets this enormous cat out of the federal bag: “Unobligated balances available for future obligation are projected to total $687 billion at the end of fiscal year 2012.” Translating from Washingtonian to English, $687 billion in unspent money is accessible for other purposes.
Impossible, yet true: Just three weeks after the vaunted Supercommittee performed its Olympic-class belly flop by failing to cut $1.2 trillion from the $45 trillion that Washington anticipates spending through 2022, Congress now struggles to find $185 billion to extend the payroll-tax cut. These legislators seem almost universally unaware that $687 billion just sits there.
Previous Congresses authorized these funds, but they were not fully spent. Imagine that Congress in 2002 approved $10 billion to purchase wheelchairs for Vietnam veterans. After every eligible vet received a wheelchair, only $7 billion had been expended. The $3 billion balance then . . . slowly . . . gathers . . . dust, like money in a checking account that waits in vain for checks to be written against it.
As the OMB document explains, “Unobligated balances are the amounts of budget authority that have not yet been committed by contract or other legally binding action by the government.” Such forgotten funds lie neglected at departments and agencies all over Washington, D.C.