Michael Kinsley once famously said that the real scandals in Washington are those that are legal, not illegal. So much of the relentless growth of government has nothing to do with massive new unfunded entitlements (Obamacare) or new layers of regulation limiting economic growth (financial services “reform”) or even fighting the War on Terror (or whatever the Obama Administration wishes to name it).
A key component of excessive, bloated government is the annual appropriations process whereby Congress funds everything from the Department of Defense, to the myriad of education programs and Congress’ own operations. Unlike entitlement spending, which Congress must change by law, appropriations bills have their allocation determined by the Congress via the budget resolution. However, for the first time since the Budget Act was passed in 1974, the House did not even pass a version of the budget resolution. Therefore, it is the primacy of the House Appropriations Committee to set the 302(b) allocations for discretionary spending.
Discretionary spending is divided into defense and non-defense spending and then within the 12 subcommittees (Agriculture, Commerce/Justice/Science, Energy and Water, Financial Services, Interior, Labor/HHS/Education, Legislative Branch, State/Foreign Operations, Transportation/HUD, Defense, Homeland Security, Military Construction/VA). The House Appropriations Committee votes to affirm the overall allocations and then this figure is a floor for federal spending in these categories.
This week the House Appropriations Committee approved allocations for Fiscal Year 2011 of $1.121 trillion, a figure that is $30 billion more than FY 2010 in these same categories but actually $7 billion less than President Obama’s budget request. On the surface, this might seem reasonable to people given that billions are thrown around more easily than Drew Brees touchdown passes. However, the FY 2010 figure is more than $100 billion higher than the FY 2009 number, which was President George W. Bush’s last budget as President. These numbers of $30 billion on top of $100 billion do not really do justice to how much increased spending the Democrat controlled Congress has supported to the baseline for the next five and ten years.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scores legislation passed by Congress for its initial fiscal impact and then five and ten year windows. When Congress increases spending in appropriations it does not increase the baseline by multiples of $100 billion and get a $500 billion increase over five years or a trillion increase over ten years. Unlike tax legislation, the CBO has historically done a much better job forecasting appropriations bills. They assume growth that factors in a sort of compound interest component, so that when the Congress increased appropriations by over $100 billion in FY 2010 that actually scored as somewhere in the vicinity of $1 trillion over and above increases if Congress just left things on autopilot for the next ten years.
The GOP Congress and former President George W. Bush are rightly criticized for not reigning in non-defense discretionary spending when they were in total control of the federal purse strings. However, there is no comparison to what the Pelosi/Reid led Congress and President Obama have done the past eighteen months. In just one day earlier this month, the US government ran a deficit of over $160 billion! This equals the budget deficit for the entire last year when President Bush and the GOP Congress were in control of federal outlays.
On top of the “stimulus,” which will cost north of one trillion dollars with interest factored in, and the health “reform” bill, which will easily top $2 trillion over the next ten years, the Democrat controlled Congress has added another trillion in debt to the government baseline and reinforced it in the House Appropriations Committee.
But once again, people hear more about Lindsey Lohan’s legal matters than a major policy decision in Washington, DC. What happened to the people who are supposed to report news, inform the public and be the guardians against injustice?