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Lawmakers Eye a Huge Backdoor Spending Increase

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Unread 04.12.19, 09:37 PM
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Lawmakers Eye a Huge Backdoor Spending Increase

On 04.12.19 01:56 PM posted by David Ditch

Members of Congress are promoting the concept of changing three programs from the discretionary category (requiring annual appropriations) into mandatory (auto-pilot) spending. Such changes would become a huge backdoor spending increase.

Spending limits have come under relentless attack from bothparties. In 2013, 2015, and 2018, Congress passed massivespending increases with little to no effort to find pay-fors. With just twoyears remaining for the Budget Control Act’s modest restraints, there is tacitagreement that Congress will likely make yet another deal to add to thenation’s $22 trillion debt.

If that was not bad enough, there is a long, bipartisantradition of finding shortcuts around already-inflated spending limits. Appropriatorshave repeatedly used fakesavings to squeeze more spending inside the caps. Disaster and war fundingexceptions havebeen abused to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. Congress hasaccepted flagrantviolations of budget rules with minimal resistance.

Another tactic for avoiding budget discipline is tore-categorize existing programs. While discretionary spending is subject tolimits and annual deliberation, so-called mandatory spending is typically leftto grow unchecked.

Mandatory spending—which includes programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—is the driving force behind today’s gargantuan federal deficits. In 1969, mandatory spending was less than half the size of discretionary spending. Today, the reverse is true.**

Three programs are currently under consideration for a spending shift: the Veterans Choice Program, the Indian Health Service, and the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. If any of the discretionary-to-mandatory swaps take place, it will mean billions in additional nondefense spending within the same caps.

Of the trio, the only one at risk of passing in the short termis the HarborMaintenance Trust Fund. This fund, derived from taxes on cargo and peoplemoving through domestic ports, is used to pay for harbor maintenance projectsundertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers. Currently, the appropriationsprocess limits spending through the fund.

Members led by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., have sought to makethe trust fund’s activity no longer count against discretionary spending caps as partof a pending disaster spending package. This would not only free up over $1.7billion in spending cap room for the current fiscal year, but it would alsoenable billions in additional spending from the fund’s reserves.

Congress should change the fund toward a user fee-based model. However, today’s awkward practice is still preferable to removing the fund from the annual spending process. Ideally, this policy rider will not be included if the House and Senate reach a disaster spending deal.

Veterans’ health care could become a similar fiscal football as members of Congress seek to leverage our national gratitude toward service members into a blank check for big spending policies.

Last year’s VA MISSION Act increased funding for the Veterans Choice Program, leading to a fight over how to pay for the law’s authorized spending. Appropriators wanted to increase in spending caps rather than consider how to eliminate billions of dollars thrown at wasteful and unnecessary programs each year. Ultimately, members maintained the spending limits while funding Veterans Choice.*

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., has introduced an amendment tomove VA MISSION spending into the mandatory spending category. As with theHarbor Maintenance Trust Fund, this would make room for spending on otherprograms under the caps.

Appropriators are also examining the Indian HealthService, which provides medical care to Native American Tribes, forspending category movement. The program received $5.8 billion for the currentfiscal year.

Members such as Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., with significantNative American populations in or adjacent to their districts, have long soughtto increase funding for the Indian Health Service. As with VA and harbormaintenance, the implication is that Native American health spending is tooimportant to worry about budgeting for.

For all three programs, a category shift would mean abudget-busting two-for-one. Not only would other programs receive increases dueto new room within the spending caps, but the programs themselves would growunchecked due to no longer being constrained by the caps.

The reality of budgeting for governments and householdsalike is that money comes from somewhere, and priorities must be balanced.

Taxes and spending havebeen badly out of alignment for years. Political leaders have aresponsibility to be straightforward with the public: either taxes must go up,or spending must go down. Attempts to obscure this reality by moving more andmore programs out of the annual appropriations process do a disservice totaxpayers and program beneficiaries alike.

The 116th Congress has an opportunity to take a stand forfiscal responsibility by rejecting these budget tricks.

The post Lawmakers Eye a Huge Backdoor Spending Increase appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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