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Archive for the ‘Appropriations/Budget’ Category

Budgetless Spending Continues

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

directionlessIt wasn’t us, certainly. It was an innate sense of guilt that undoubtedly got the Senate Appropriations Committee to defend Congress’s failure to pass a budget by the April 15 deadline. It appears as though Congress will not do a budget at all this year.

In our “Spending Without a Budget” post last week, we lamented the fact that Congress has not passed a budget plan, but has started moving spending bills.

The Senate Appropriations Committee filed a report this week that defended the practice of spending without a budget. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, it says, excuses Congress from passing a budget.

“This approach is not without precedent,” the report continues.

An identical procedure for the providing of an allocation to the Committee for fiscal year 2014, and again in fiscal year 2015 was contained in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. Also, for fiscal year 2012, and again in fiscal year 2013, such a procedure was contained in the Budget Control Act of 2011. No budget resolutions were adopted by Congress in any of those years.

And it goes on. Congress often fails to budget. You’d think that we in the public aren’t even here.

But some more FY 2017 spending bills were introduced in the past week. Here’s a list of all the bills we have seen so far. Budgetless spending continues…

Commerce/Justice/Science
S. 2837, the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017spends $583.65 per U.S. family

Energy and Water
S. 2804, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017spends $338.62 per U.S. family

Military/Veterans
H.R. 4974, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017spends $1,659.39 per U.S. family

S. 2806, the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017spends $1,664.34 per U.S. family

Transportation
S. 2844, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017spends $1,086.00 per U.S. family

Spending Without a Budget

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

budget_processRepublicans are the party of fiscal responsibility, right?

They’re the ones who are careful with taxpayer dollars. Right?

Maybe not.

We noted a couple of weeks ago that the budget debate in Congress was getting underway a little late. Now it appears to have been abandoned.

April 15th was the deadline for Congress to finish establishing the budget for fiscal year 2017, which begins November 1st. But instead of a finalized budget, we got a spending bill.

H.R. 4974 proposes spending on military construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and related agencies next fiscal year. It was introduced Friday.

Does the $184 billion in spending in that bill—about $1,600 per U.S. family—stay within the budget? We can’t know because there isn’t one.

We did see a budget proposal introduced in the House. H. Con. Res. 125 proposed spending of about $3.1 trillion or $27,000 per U.S. family. But it hasn’t passed the House, much less been agreed to in the Senate.

What’s supposed to happen is that a budget is passed, then the total budget number is allocated among appropriations subcommittees. But there is no budget, so there are no allocations.

Republicans control the House and Senate. The budget is a document that does not need the president’s signature. So there doesn’t need to be a partisan debate for there to be a budget, other than standard cooperation with the Democratic minority in the Senate. Republicans, this group of legislators who have claimed the mantle of fiscal responsibility for many decades, seem to be giving it away.

Of course, their behavior is always based on what they think you want. If they don’t hear about it from you, they won’t feel obligated to budget and spend responsibly. Right now, your Republican Congress is spending without a budget.

The Budget Debate Begins—Late

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

Receipts and OutlaysAs we noted in last week’s email newsletter, the House Budget Committee has produced its proposal for the federal budget for fiscal year 2017, which begins October 1st.

The House plan spends about $3.1 trillion, over $27,000 per U.S. family, and it’s not popular in the voting so far on our site—presumably because it spends so much.

But a little perspective might show that the proposal is unreasonably low.

The president’s budget, introduced back in February (a little late), proposes over $4.1 trillion in spending—a trillion more than the House plan. The House’s proposal would take federal spending back to something like the level last seen in fiscal 2009, when spending jumped in reaction to the financial crisis of 2008.

So, is the House plan too high? Or is it too low? Just right?

Your opinion is just your opinion until you do something about it. In addition to communicating with your member of Congress about what the budget plan should be, you should probably inform your friends, neighbors, and colleagues that the government’s plan for spending their money is being formed up now. And that they should get involved in the debate.

By the way, the House and Senate are supposed to finalize their budget plan by April 15th, less than two weeks from now. They are late starting the budget debate. You can have any opinion you want on that, as long as your opinion is disapproval.

Here’s the current vote on H. Con. Res. 125, the House budget proposal. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

At Long Last, a Budget

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

budget_processThe first Monday in February is when the president is supposed to introduce his budget. We didn’t get it until the second Tuesday, but now that it’s out, it’s out.

President Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget proposal punches through to a new level: for the first time ever, it’s above $4 trillion dollars in spending.

That’s about $37,000 per U.S. family, or $11,800 per person in the U.S. The budget doesn’t anticipate taxes and other revenues to match outlays, so it would produce a deficit of about $500 billion dollars.

Speaking of which, the national debt recently rose past $19 trillion, or about $184,000 per U.S. family.

Perhaps the House and Senate will run their budgeting and spending processes on time. The next major step in the process (see the timetable at right) is for them each to produce budgets, then reconcile them into a final budget resolution. The due date for that is April 15th. As taxpayers know, that day comes quickly.

After Congress finalizes its budget, the Appropriations Committees will dole out spending authority to their subcommittees, and those subcommittees will write and pass the bills to do the actual spending, forwarding them to the full House and Senate for final approval.

Those appropriations bills are very hard to read for ordinary people, which makes public oversight hard. And in many recent years, the process has broken down. Instead of passing spending bills in an orderly way during the summer, Congress has left it until the end of the fiscal year (the end of September). And then, under the threat of a government shutdown, House and Senate leaders have passed one big bill to fund the whole government. When that happens, it takes a hard-to-read piece of legislation and makes it so we don’t get a look until it has already passed.

Year over year, we do a lot of carping about the way Congress so often fails to make its spending decisions in an orderly way. We intend to keep carping until Congress does better—until you require Congress to do better. The beatings will continue until morale improves.

It’s Budget Day! And You’ll be Disappointed

Monday, February 1st, 2016

budget_processThe first Monday in February is a very special day. It’s the day that the president produces his proposed budget for the following fiscal year, and it marks the beginning of a rich, annual pageant that ends with the mid-summer passage of spending bills for all the federal agencies.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know how little of that is true.

In fact, more often than not, the Obama Administration has been late producing the budget. That kicks off a process that’s not exactly a pageant. And Congress very often fails to budget and set spending priorities before the start of the next fiscal year.

Are we beginning that sloppy process again? Looks like it.

President Obama will not release the budget today. The director of the Office of Management and Budget announced on Twitter in early January that the budget will come out on February 9th.

That’s been fairly common in the Obama years. With the latest tardy budget, it will be six out of eight budgets introduced late.

Budget Year Due Date Date Issued
FY 2010 February 2, 2009 February 26, 2009
FY 2011 February 1, 2010 February 1, 2010
FY 2012 February 7, 2011 February 14, 2011
FY 2013 February 6, 2012 February 13, 2012
FY 2014 February 4, 2013 April 10, 2013
FY 2015 February 3, 2014 March 4, 2014
FY 2016 February 2, 2015 February 2, 2015
FY 2017 February 1, 2016 February 9?



Congress is responsible for its own failings, of course. It could run the spending process on time whether or not the president produced a budget on the due date.

But Congress and the president are both in the same boat politically. They both know that the press and the people don’t follow this stuff very carefully. A late budget travels under the radar. Being late with the spending bills—or not producing some of them at all—doesn’t make much news. And at the end of the process, a big omnibus bill filled with nonsense does things that nobody knows about until it’s too late. That is not a very democratic process, and at that point people get angry.

What should you do about this particular situation? Like always, making noise about what you care about raises your influence. Write a letter to the president and tell your friends about it. Write a letter to your congressman and senators, and tell your friends about it. Write a letter to the editor. Tell your friends about it.

If you’re like most politically aware people, though, you’re focusing on the Democratic and Republican primaries. You’re focusing on the personalities and the controversy. You don’t even feel that hand in your pocket.

But when you and others like you start raising the alarm about sloppy, non-transparent budgeting, things will start to change. So make some noise, and tell your friends about it. Until you do, you’ll continue to be disappointed by budget day.

Congressionally Mandated Bad Budget Information

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

rising baselineIt’s hard enough to gather what’s going on in Congress without Congress standing in your way. But they do. And one way they do that is by warping the budget information that gets shared with the public.

A case in point is “baseline budgeting.” That’s when Congress requires agencies like the Congressional Budget Office to assume that spending on a given program will rise. Changes in spending are then compared to the rising baseline.

Under baseline budgeting, an increase in spending above the baseline looks smaller. And if Congress reduces the rate of growth in a program that’s still growing, it will by reported as a cut.

Here’s an example: H.R. 677 is the American Heroes COLA Act of 2015. The bill would modify several Veterans Administration programs, and it also includes a cost cost-of-living adjustment, or “COLA,” to amounts paid to veterans and their survivors.

A law called the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act requires baseline budgeting in this area, so the Congressional Budget Office officially reports that the bill would produce about $6 billion in new spending, or about $42 per U.S. family. But CBO doesn’t report another $573 in spending per family.

H.R. 677 costs about $615 per U.S. family, not $42. (The bill includes no revenue measures, so its passage would raise the national debt by that same amount.) We don’t think rising baseline budgeting gives you an honest account of spending, so we add back in the money that Congress requires the CBO to leave out (when we know about it).

Now that you have a better idea of what the bill costs, you are a little better positioned to decide what you think of it. Many of our veterans and their families have sacrificed nobly for our country. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have an open tap on your wallet. Should they get another $600 of your family’s money? Something less? More? Or maybe there’s another way to think about how we take care of the nation’s veterans.

Here’s the current vote on H.R. 677, the American Heroes COLA Act of 2015. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

Obamacare is Here to Stay

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

trump obamacare… or at least that’s how it will be while there is a Democratic president.

That’s the lesson of last week’s veto of H.R. 3762, The Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015. The bill would have repealed key provisions of Obamacare, as well as stripping federal funding from Planned Parenthood.

Republicans have been mighty persistent—Democrats would say maniacal—in their efforts to repeal Obamacare. Almost two years ago, the House had already voted to repeal or alter it some 54 times.

Now, for the first time, the House and Senate have both approved a repeal. That was the recently vetoed reconciliation bill.

That persistence on the part of Obamacare’s opponents can pay off, but it’s 100% clear now that it only happens if only there’s a Republican president.

But a political cross-current may swamp the plans for Obamacare repeal, and that cross-current has a name: Donald Trump.

The Donald is the most popular presidential candidate among Republicans, and he’s the bane of other, more traditional candidates. Many people like his unpolished, tell-it-like-it-is style, even when he’s telling it like it isn’t.

But there’s one thing he almost certainly isn’t, and that’s electable.

That same brash style that makes him popular with some people makes him really unpopular with others. His high negatives mean that if he gets the nod as the Republican candidate, the Democrat wins. And Obamacare stays.

Is Obamacare here to stay? It’s looking good right now.

The Process Really Stinks

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

Paul Ryan process stinksNobody likes the omnibus spending bill that passed Congress last week.

H.R. 2029, The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, spends over $11,000 per U.S. family on the operation of the federal government for the remainder of the 2016 fiscal year.

But the price tag ain’t the half of it.

BoingBoing lambasted the omnibus because of the inclusion of a “domestic mass surveillance law” called the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, saying “that’s just the appetizer in a banquet of corrupt DC horsetrading embodied in 2,000+ pages that indicts the entire US legislative system.”

The Daily Caller blasted the bill because it contains a “serious expansion of the H-2b visa program, a service designed for temporary non-agricultural labor.”

CleanTechnica says, “Americans Deserve Better Than The Omnibus Bill.” The list goes on.

Shortly before his elevation to Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-WI) objected to a budget deal put together by outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

This process stinks,” Ryan said, “This is not the way to do the people’s business, and under new management we are not going to do the people’s business this way.”

Or maybe we are.

Recognize how this can happen, though: When Congress does not do its budgeting and spending on time, finishing the appropriations bills in the summer, we get these emergency spending bills adorned like a Christmas tree with legislative tricks and riders.

The first Monday in February is when the president submits his budget for the forthcoming fiscal year. There is a series of steps that Congress is supposed to follow.

Since they won’t do it on their own, the public has to ask them to do it. We’ll see how the public does with overseeing the budgeting process in February!

Five Days, Fifty Billion Dollars

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

money-fallingWhen Congress failed to pass the annual spending bills by the October 1 beginning of the 2016 fiscal year, it passed a continuing resolution funding the government until December 11th. We called it the first continuing resolution, because we expected that there would be more. We were right. That’s not from bein’ a genius, just from payin’ attention.

The latest continuing resolution, passed in haste by the House and Senate last week, funds the government five more days, until December 16th.

By that time, House and Senate leaders and the president are supposed to come up with a funding plan for the remainder of the fiscal year. If they don’t, there’ll be another continuing resolution, and then maybe another one after that.

Congress is supposed to pass spending legislation in the summer, well before the fiscal year begins. Maybe they’ll do that for the 2017 fiscal year. The process starts in early 2016. Your oversight can improve their performance.

Meantime, H.R. 2250, the Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2016, spends about fifty billion dollars on keeping the government open for five days. That’s about the rate of spending during the 2015 fiscal year and about $480 per U.S. family.

Here’s the current vote on H.R. 2250. Click to vote, comment, learn more, and edit the wiki article on the bill.

The National Debt Has Gone Up

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

national-debtIt happens when Congress lifts the debt limit. The national debt rises.

And last week the national debt saw a record one-day increase of over $339 billion.

That’s not because a lot of money flowed out of the government all at once. The Treasury Department has been using resourceful bookkeeping to keep the debt number down. It stopped doing so with the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act, and the jump reflects a move to a more accurate debt number.

The debt is now just over $18.6 trillion. That’s about $180,000 per U.S. family or $58,000 per person, twice the number in the picture at the right. (Last week, the debt was $176,400 per family and $56,400 per person.)

Then there’s the question of what the debt should be. Debt hawks would say “ZERO.” The existence of any national debt at all reflects irresponsibility on the part of Congress and the federal government.

Others argue that debt is normal for any organization, including governments. The question is whether the debts were incurred for things that produce more revenue than the debt costs to maintain. A hundred eighty thousand dollars is not unreasonable debt for an increasingly productive family, and $58,000 is not unreasonable for a productive person.

But has government been spending on things that make the country more productive, like infrastructure and stimulus that primes the economic pump? Or has the government been spending on destructive war and indolence-promoting welfare?

These are deep-running questions that go to our national values. Reasonable people hold views on both sides of this question.

And it doesn’t do much good to argue about it. Rather, people of all views should track what the spending goes to and whether they think it’s a good use of their taxpayer dollars.

WashingtonWatch.com offers some aide in this effort, and we working to improve our capabilities. When bills have a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, we add that into our database and present a “net present value” calculation reflecting the cost or savings per family, person, and so on. (“Net present value” is the amount you’d have to put in the bank today to fund future spending. It’s a way of presenting lots of different spending numbers as a single amount.)

The CBO doesn’t always produce honest numbers. Sometimes Congress requires it to use “baseline budgeting,” which assumes rising spending amounts so that their reports only reflect changes from that. We working on exposing that type of white lie for you.

You should follow along, decide whether spending meets up with your personal values, and act accordingly. That means voting “yes” or “no” on the bills, commenting to say why you voted as you did, and sharing this information with friends, neighbors, and co-workers. (Try not to annoy your co-workers, of course.)

Politics is social. Talk about the facts you learn on WashingtonWatch.com, Tweet about them, and post on Facebook. This will be more persuasive (if less provocative) than your big-government, small-government opinions and who you love and who you hate in the Republican and Democractic presidential debate. Be persuasive with your knowledge of neutrally-stated facts.

The national debt has gone up. It’s your debt as a taxpayer. Your attention to federal spending should go up and stay up, too.