As you may remember, the debt-ceiling deal was supposed to set caps on spending. These caps were supposed to control spending, but the Heritage Foundation’s Patrick Knudsen calculates that Congress already has exceeded the caps by some $156 billion. He lists the following:
The official Budget Control Act cap: $1.043 trillion.
Overseas troop support: $127 billion.
“Disaster” and “program integrity” initiatives: $11 billon.
“Changes in mandatory programs” shell game: $18 billion.
Total: $1.199 trillion.
Some of the excess spending is the product of spending for U.S. troops overseas, but much of it is also the result of unacceptable abuse of loopholes built into the spending caps along with other gimmicks. For instance, he writes:
Two of the more egregious loopholes are for “disaster” funding and certain “program integrity” initiatives, which total about $11 billion in the FY 2012 spending bills.
The roughly $10.5 billion in disaster funds provided in the appropriations bills go toward relief from weather events that have already happened, such as Hurricane Irene and even Hurricane Katrina of six years ago. The legal definition for what qualifies as a disaster comes down to pretty much whatever the President says it is—and the current President has been extravagant about it. In any case, because these funds are for past events, they should be included in the budget, not given a special exemption.
Program integrity initiatives involve additional spending for agencies to attack waste, fraud, and abuse. But such activities ought to be standard procedure for all government agencies, and should not require free, off-budget spending.
One more loophole Congress has not yet exploited this year is the “emergency” designation. This allows Congress and the President to spend any additional amount during the year they deem necessary for sudden, unexpected events that may threaten life, property, or national security. Surely, Congress must be able to respond to such events. But when emergencies are coupled with all the other exceptions described above, the notion of spending “limits” becomes all but meaningless. Congress should tighten the definition of emergencies, strictly limit the use of this provision, and provide each year a reasonable set-aside fund within the spending cap to accommodate true emergencies, exceeding this amount only for extraordinary events.
This is more evidence that the debt ceiling deal may prove to be even less effective than I thought it would be at the time. In addition, according to CQ, appropriators working on the FY2013 budget seem to be totally ignoring the consequences of the failure of the super committee and the automatic cuts triggered by sequestration.
I would be curious to see what the president will do about sequestration cuts in his budget.