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Archive for the ‘Appropriations/Budget’ Category

Government Programs Cost Money

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

green threadGovernment programs cost money. But the systems we’ve got for government oversight don’t make it terribly easy to follow the green thread.

A number of bills getting cost estimates in the last week help illustrate how taxpayer money is spent, though, so let’s review.

The annual budgeting and spending process goes on year over year (“appropriations”), but a different batch of laws establishes the legal authority for agencies’ existence and powers in the first place. Those laws also establish the government’s power to expend funds in support of agencies. This is called “authorization.”

Three authorization bills got cost estimates last week for different parts of the U.S. government. Getting a look at them can help you understand how much you pay for federal agencies.

H.R. 1735 is called the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016. It authorize appropriations totaling about $605.3 billion for FY 2016 for the military functions of the Department of Defense, certain activities of the Department of Energy, and a few other purposes. Separately, those funds will be appropriated, or spent, in the Department of Defense appropriations bill. This is the legal authority for the spending.

Here at WashingtonWatch.com, we take government estimates of the actual outlays that will occur each year under authorizations and calculate how much each American family would have to put in the bank to fund this spending. This “net present value” calculation finds the cost of H.R. 1735 to be about $5,400 per U.S. family.

Now you’re better positioned to decide whether military spending is too low, too high, or just right. Let your member of Congress and senators know how you feel—and your friends and neighbors, too. It’s all part of your civic duty.

Here is the current vote on H.R. 1735. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

Now, how about NASA?

H.R. 2039 is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act for 2016 and 2017. As you might guess, it allows for spending on NASA in the next two fiscal years—$18.5 billion in 2016 and $18.8 billion in 2017. That means spending of about $330 per U.S. family.

Worth it? Want more? Want less?

Here is the current vote on H.R. 2039. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

Finally, let’s look at the Coast Guard.

H.R. 1987 is the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015. It authorizes appropriations totaling $17.5 billion for operations of the United States Coast Guard and the Federal Maritime Commission over the 2016-2017 period. $150 per U.S. family.

Here is the current vote on H.R. 1987. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

Not every agency of the U.S. government gets reauthorized every year, and sometimes there are appropriations without authorization, which is one of many forms of congressional mismanagement.

But when Congress is doing its job, it gives you a chance to see particulars of how government programs cost money.

We Have a Budget! And a Fascinating Compromise…

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

pile-of-moneyLast week, we asked Congress sternly, “How’s that Quick Budget Deal Coming Along?

With the deadline for a final congressional budget having passed on April 15th, their claim to be moving promptly toward finalizing a budget was dubious. Congress was in trouble with us!

To make amends—and assuredly you understand we’re being tongue-in-cheek about that—congressional leaders sat down last week and hammered out a final budget. The compromise went to the House and received a favorable vote. The Senate is likely to vote on it this week.

The compromise is fascinating, because the two houses of Congress didn’t come out where you might have expected.

Recall that H. Con. Res. 27, the House’s budget resolution, proposed spending of a little under $28,400 per family for fiscal 2016, which starts October 1st. The Senate’s budget, S. Con. Res. 11, proposed about $28,600 per U.S. family.

The compromise between the two spends $29,131 per U.S. family.

Yes, you read that right. The two houses of Congress were about $200 apart on how much money per family they should spend in fiscal 2016. So they took the high proposal, added $500 to it, and agreed on that!

There are a lot of interests competing for congressional dollars, and between the time the House and Senate put forward their proposals and the time they got together to forge a compromise, some of them must have convinced Congress to open the spigot just a little more. Maybe the money will go to good things. Maybe it’s better left with America’s individual taxpayers and businesses. That’s up to you.

But it’s not up to very many people, because most news outlets don’t report at all on basic numbers like the amount of spending Congress plans, proposes, or passes.

Will that change? Maybe if you ask for it. So this week, along with suggesting that you communicate with your member of Congress and senators, we suggest that you also call your local paper and television news station and ask them why they don’t give out the numbers!

Here’s the current vote on the now-larger Senate budget resolution, which is the vehicle for final passage of the congressional budget resolution. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

How’s that Quick Budget Deal Coming Along?

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

budget_processYes, we are all about that budget around here. It’s the national government’s most significant annual expression of values.

April 15th was the deadline for the House and Senate to decide on a budget for the federal government in fiscal 2016. But that deadline came and went without Congress finalizing an overall spending plan.

Budget leaders in the House and Senate promised to “strike a deal quickly,” but definitions of “quickly” appear to differ. The congressional budget resolution is nearly two weeks late now.

What has happened is a meeting. Last week, the conference committee on the FY 2016 budget got together. Members of the committee, appointed by the House and Senate to represent their respective sides, made statements about the budget, then they adjourned without undertaking any real work. (In fairness, pretty much all the work goes on behind the scenes.) You can watch it—all two hours of it—on C-SPAN.

When a budget is finalized, it is used to create what are called 302(b) allocations. Those are amounts assigned to each of the appropriations subcommittees for them to spend.

Makes sense, right? Once you’ve got a budget, you decide how to spend it.

But in the absence of a budget and their 302(b) allocations, the appropriations subcommittees are already starting to move bills. Late last week, two appropriations bills were introduced in the House.

H.R. 2028, is the energy, water development, and related agencies spending bill. It includes about $36 billion in spending, or about $340 per U.S. family.

H.R. 2029 makes appropriations for military construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and related agencies for the 2016 fiscal year. That bill has about $172.5 billion in spending. That’s $1,600 per family.

It’s not terrible to see the appropriations subcommittees moving forward. They are supposed to finish by mid-summer so that agencies can plan for the start of the fiscal year on October 1st. But that should happen after Congress has produced a final budget.

So how’s that quick budget deal coming along?

Here are the current votes on the spending bills introduced last week. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki articles on the bills.

It’s All About That Budget

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

We’ve resisted the temptation to try rewriting the lyrics to Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” but it would probably go:

all about that budget, / ‘Bout that budget, no trouble
all about that budget, / ‘Bout that budget, no trouble

(That’s enough of that!)

But for us, it is all about that budget.

April 15th—Wednesday this week—is Congress’s deadline for passing a fiscal 2016 budget. The House and Senate bills must be reconciled and turned into a version that both agree on.

As USA Today reported on Friday, however, Congress will miss the deadline. Budget leaders in the House and Senate have promised to “strike a deal quickly.”

The House and Senate Budget Committee chairmen are Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY). They’re responsible for running these trains on time. But your member of Congress and senators are responsible for running the Budget Committee chairmen!

You’re always free to contact your representatives and tell them what you think the priority of Congress should be. Timely budgeting is more likely to produce responsible budgeting. And you can tell them what you think is responsible budgeting while you’re encouraging to get the work done.

To recap: H. Con. Res. 27 is the House’s budget resolution. It proposes a little under $28,400 in spending per family for fiscal 2016, which starts October 1st.

The Senate budget is S. Con. Res. 11. It plans for spending of about $28,600 per U.S. family.

Should the final budget come down more like the House’s? More like the Senate’s? Exactly in between? Or higher or lower than both?

As always, the right answer is up to you. Below are the current votes on the House and Senate budget resolutions. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki articles on the bills.

Break Time!

Monday, March 30th, 2015

Spring Break…and maybe Congress has earned it.

The House and Senate go on hiatus this week and next. They’ll return to work in Washington, D.C., on April 13th.

Before they left town, each chamber had a little productive streak, with Medicare legislation moving in the House and the Senate getting some budgeting done.

The House debated and passed—with bipartisan votes—H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.

The bill repeals the “sustainable growth rate” intended to keep Medicare payments to physicians under control. Since the SGR has been in effect, the medical provider lobby has put off its application year over year to the point where they faced a 21% cut in pay if the SGR went into effect this year.

When the stakes are that high, you dedicate good time and effort to influencing Congress, and recipients of Medicare payments in the health care world have certainly put in the effort to put Medicare back onto its proper unsustainable path. (We’ve made that joke before. If the “sustainable growth rate” is reppealed, it’s unsustainable, right?)

H.R. 2 also extends funding for Child Heath Insurance Program for two years and increases funding to the States for that program.

The tab is not insignificant. H.R. 2 costs a little over $1,200 per U.S. family, increasing the national debt by a little less than that amount because it brings in a wee bit of revenue.

On the Senate side, last week was budget week. The upper house debated and passed its blueprint for spending in fiscal 2016, which begins October 1st.

S. Con. Res. 11 is the Senate’s budget resolution. The Senate’s plan calls for spending of about $28,500 per family.

That’s a notch higher than the House’s plan for spending of $28,350 per family.

When the House and Senate return, they are supposed to craft a compromise budget resolution, which will serve as a guide for the actual spending done by the House and Senate appropriations committees.

The deadline for finalizing the budget resolution is two days after Congress returns from their spring break, April 15th. House and Senate budget negotiators might want to consider putting in some overtime during the break!

Here are the current votes on H.R. 2 and S. Con. Res. 11. Click to vote, comment, learn more, and edit the wiki articles on the bills.

A House Budget and a Senate Transparency Failure

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

budget_processAn important step in the annual budgeting and spending process occurred on Friday, when congressional budget resolutions were introduced in both the House and Senate.

After the president produces his budget, the next stage in the process is for Congress to produce its own budget, taking President Obama’s proposal into consideration.

The House and Senate each consider a proposal, then they come together on a final version. The congressional budget resolution will then determine how much money the appropriations subcommittees have to spend in the areas the oversee.

There has been some attention paid to wrangling among budget leaders. With both houses controlled by Republicans, budgeting leaders are supposed to get along, and when they don’t, that’s news. (Would it be any surprise that the result was more spending?)

But the key difference between the proposals we care about is that the House actually published their bill, and the Senate did not.

If you go to the bill pages for House Concurrent Resolution 27 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 11, you’ll find a key difference when you click “Read the Bill” in the “Learn More” box. The House link takes you to the text of the House’s proposal. The Senate link takes you to the inscription: “The text of S.CON.RES.11 has not yet been received from GPO.”

The bill may have been introduced, but we can’t see it yet, so does that really count? It may have been introduced according to Senate rules, but has it been introduced to the public?

(The “not yet received” notice will disappear when the bill text is processed and made available to us.)

Adding insult to injury, if you go looking for the text of the bill online, the most prominent document made available by the Senate Budget Committee—at a link that literally says “CLICK HERE FOR THE BALANCED BUDGET RESOLUTION”—is a promotional piece that could best be described as ‘spintastic.’

The Senate document claims that their plan “Balances the Budget in 10 Years.” It “Ensures Flexibility for Funding National Defense.” It “Provides Repeal and Replacement of Obamacare. [sic]” And more. But do you know what the document doesn’t tell you? WHAT THE SENATE BUDGET RESOLUTION SAYS.

In fact, if you scroll down to the draft budget resolution that is included in the document, it literally has this line in the section on outlays/spending: “Fiscal year 2016: $_______,000,000.”

Now, we’re being a little unfair here because there is a chart tucked in the document that says that total outlays will be $3.8 trillion. But that’s a chart summarizing what the resolution may say. It’s not the Senate budget resolution. We’ll know what it says when we see what it says.

The House budget resolution, on the other hand, is available. You can look at it (again, click on “Read the Bill”) and see what the House proposes for federal spending in fiscal 2016.

The House proposes $3,009,033,000,000 in spending. It’s a much lower number than the Senate is apparently going to propose, and it’s not rounded like the one from the Senate chart. It amounts to a little over $28,000 in spending per U.S. family. The Senate will propose about $35,750 per family, something like the president’s $37,000 proposal. (Haha. We get to round our numbers on our blog posts. The Senate Budget Committee doesn’t in what it calls its budget resolution!)

That’s a lot of money, and one can have their opinions on whether it’s the right amount. One can have opinions on whether it will be well spent, such as for that reported increase in military spending.

But one thing is clear: The House has introduced a budget resolution to the public. The Senate has introduced a budget resolution to itself and a select group of insiders. The House has a budget resolution. The Senate has a transparency failure.

Here are the current votes on the two budget resolutions. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki articles on the bills.

So, WHAT Happened with DHS Funding?!

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

DHSIf you didn’t stay up late on Friday night following the unfolding drama around Department of Homeland Security spending, congratulations! You’re normal!

Republicans’ strong objections to the president’s recent immigration actions will come back in a week, though, so let’s get you updated on the goings-on so far.

Just after the election last November, President Obama announced a number of immigration policies that were strongly criticized by Republicans in Congress. The policies would allow millions of illegal immigrants to stay in the country.

Fiscal year 2015 spending was under consideration at the time, and instead of including full-year DHS spending in the “CRomnibus” spending bill for 2015, Congress included short-term DHS spending in the bill.

That short term came to an end on Friday, but Congress and the president had not quite agreed on what to do.

H.R. 240, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2015, was the main bill under discussion. It passed the House—denying funds to implement the president’s policies—back in January. The Senate took up the bill last week, but couldn’t agree to the House’s version.

Instead, the Senate passed a version of the bill that fully funds the immigration policies, and it tried to move a bill that would revise the immigration policy so as not to affect “dreamers,” children brought to the U.S. illegally who are now socially and economically integrated into the United States. (We’ll come back to that bill.)

Meanwhile, the House took up H.J. Res. 35, which would have funded DHS until March 19th. That bill didn’t pass.

So Congress went to a fallback. The Senate took up H.R. 33, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act, which passed the House earlier in the year, and popped in language to fund the DHS until next Friday.

A few hours before midnight on Friday, the House passed that bill, and the debate was over—for the weekend, at least. Congress will be back to this debate promptly

Now, coming back to the Senate bill that would revise the immigration policies a little bit. That’s S. 534, the Immigration Rule of Law Act of 2015. S. 534 got a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office last week. Interesting stuff!

Once again denying parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to request deferred action and employment authorization would save about $250 per family, while increasing each family’s share of the national debt by about $51.91. Be careful to understand what those numbers mean! (Check “Read an Analysis of the Bill” in the “Learn More” box.)

S. 534 would reduce tax collections by about $19 billion over 10 years. Most of that would be Social Security taxes not being paid by legalized workers, so it’s probably not a saving to your family (unless, of course, you’re an illegal immigrant). The bill would reduce spending by about $12.5 billion per year. That’s a smaller drop in spending than the drop in revenues, so the national debt rises.

If you’re clear on all that, you’re ready for the coming week’s debate on how to fund the Department of Homeland Security! Comment here or on any of the bills, and pat yourself on the back for following along, even if you didn’t spend your Friday night on it.

We Begin Again

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

budget_processLast Monday, an annual process began that is the least covered in the mainstream media of any national political story, at least relative to its importance to taxpayers. That’s the introduction of the president’s budget proposal. The first Monday in February is the deadline for submitting a budget to Congress. The president met it this time.

Yes, there was news reporting here and there. Most of it, though, was about policy details. You’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere but here on WashingtonWatch.com that the budget proposes spending of about $37,000 per U.S. family in the United States. That’s enough for every family to buy itself a new car.

That money will go to priorities set in Washington, D.C. Some of those priorities are the right ones—essential, even—and some are probably wrong from your perspective. The job is to figure out which are what, and to act on that.

You’re not too late to do something about budgeting and spending. The process has just gotten underway.

The next step is for each house of Congress to debate their own budget resolutions, combining them into a final congressional budget resolution. The deadline for that to happen is April 15th.

In recent years, Congress has often not completed a budget resolution. Perhaps that’s explained by division of the House and Senate between parties. Perhaps it’s explained by neglect. Neither is a good reason, and the first one has gone away, as the House and Senate are both in Republican control. It’s fair to expect the leaders of the same party to agree on a budget for the federal government.

So why not start your involvement in the budgeting and spending debate this year by letting your representatives in Congress know that you’re watching? This is as good a time as ever to contact your representative in the House and your two senators and tell them that you expect there to be a final congressional budget resolution by the April 15 deadline.

You can let them know your general spending preferences, too, of course. More spending overall? Less? More money to the military? More to needy families? Now is the time to talk about it.

This initial communication shouldn’t be the last they hear from you. Once a budget resolution is finalized, Congress allocates gross amounts to the appropriations subcommittees for the spending that each of them covers: Homeland Security, Labor/Health and Human Services, etc. Those subcommittees will then debate and pass individual bills that allocate spending. That’s another good time to oversee their work. Their bills are long, but it is possible to read them and discern where the money is going.

You’ll want to call or write again then to say “yay” or “nay” on various spending items. See what your representative does in response. Will you get a form letter? Or will your representatives introduce or vote on an amendment that does what you want.

Frankly, they’re unused to hearing from Americans who know what they’re talking about, so they won’t be ready for you. So be patient but insistent.

Are you ready? The budget process for the 2016 fiscal year is getting underway, and you can be a part of it.

$11,212.61

Monday, December 15th, 2014

money-fallingOver $11,000 per U.S. family is the amount Congress spent in the CRomnibus, which passed over the weekend. We’ll recap exactly what happened procedurally, then let’s have a talk.

Back in September, having failed to move the annual spending bills on time, Congress passed a continuing resolution to fund the government into December. Not much more happened (that we could see) until mid-week last week when congressional leaders popped out the bill they thought should fund the government for the rest of the year.

Nobody knew exactly what was in the “CRomnibus,” and when the details began to come out, some members of Congress balked. So the leadership found themselves unable to pass it as written. They needed a couple more days for dealmaking, so on Thursday last week they passed a small, two-day continuing resolution.

A little more tweaking—and a lot more arguing and game-playing—produced a final CRomnibus, which the Congress passed and sent to the president Saturday. You can see the votes on final passage here: House, Senate. (Our cost estimate is produced by taking the total amount of spending in the bill and dividing it by the number of households in the United States.)

But let’s talk.

There’s not much point in knowing the final votes on the CRominbus, because the question it presented didn’t call for a simple right-or-wrong answer. Should the government have shut down while all the tweaks and goodies snuck into the bill got debated? There’s plenty wrong with the bill from all perspectives, but shutting down the government isn’t very responsible. And you can’t just root for your team: The yeas and nays didn’t break down along party lines.

The CRomnibus or some similar disaster was almost inevitable when Congress didn’t pass the annual spending bills on time. Following the regular process would have allowed at least some public oversight. Congress and the public would have confronted many decisions for which people like you do have a right answer. Should money go to school lunches, strengthening the military, or back to taxpayers? (Much can be done to make these questions clearer to you when they happen.)

If Congress had followed the regular process, it would have allowed you to vote in November based on what happened in the summer and fall. But Congress collectively shunted responsibility by failing to follow the regular schedule, insulating itself from your oversight.

Think of yourself as a baseball fan outside the stadium. You can hear the roar of the crowd when things happen, but you don’t know what’s going on until word filters out to you from other folks who have a radio or a line to someone inside. You never get to see the balls and strikes, the foul balls and fly balls. You never get to see the actual game.

The most civic-minded of us stay outside the stadium, trying intently to follow along. But most people wander away from the stadium because following a game that you can’t see is a really frustrating waste of time.

How do we get inside? So far, not enough people are demanding to be let inside, willing to storm the gates. As we’ve written here before, it’s on you to insist that Congress follow the regular schedule, letting you inside the stadium. Your lacking oversight last summer allowed the CRomnibus to happen last week.

Very soon, the budget process for fiscal year 2016 will start. There’s a schedule it’s supposed to follow, and the American people could put pressure on Congress to follow that schedule. Chances of that happening are slim, though, because there isn’t a cadre of people—a brigade—that is informed enough and attentive enough to insist on good behavior from Congress all year long. If enough people had the information they need and the capacity to do something with that information, our democracy would function much better.

Here’s hoping that someone combines enough legislative information with networking tools that allow people to take intelligent action. And here’s hoping that happens well before next year’s CRomnibus!

CRomnibus = Awful

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

cronutIt’s awful, this “CRomnibus” thing. For at least two reasons.

One is the name. The bill is a combination “CR,” or continuing resolution (which generally extends spending at current levels), and an omnibus, which combines all of the annual spending bills into one.

Put the two together, and what do you get? “CRomnibus.” Awful.

The CR part is Department of Homeland Security spending, which would be extended into March. Between now and then, Republicans will think of some way to respond to President Obama’s recent immigration policy, implemented through Citizenship and Immigration Services, a part of DHS. They haven’t got one now, as we noted last week.

Then, there’s the omnibus. All the rest of the government will be funded in one giant bill that carries through until the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2015.

What’s the other thing wrong with the CRomnibus? We don’t know what’s in it. We don’t even have a bill number.

Instead of FY 2015 spending getting debated throughout the summer, Congress will once again deal with it all at once well into the fiscal year. We don’t have a bill number, and we certainly don’t have bill text to look at. That’s an attack on our democracy, because it reduces the already small opportunity ordinary Americans have to influence the outcome.

We’re often harping on breakdowns in the spending process. You can see past work on that here. We do so because government spending is important. It’s an expression of our national values. As such, it should be an expression of your values. But far too often you’re excluded from the process, as you will be this week when Congress passes a “CRomnibus.”