November 6, 2000
The Appropriations Process Poses a Risk to American Taxpayers
Congress has nearly completed the controversial appropriations process for fiscal year 2001. The 13 appropriations bills that will be passed this year represent "discretionary" spending, which funds thousands of federal programs and agencies. By contrast, permanent law, funding Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and interest on the national debt sets "mandatory" spending. The appropriations process is critically important to taxpayers, because Congress is deciding how to spend YOUR money. As usual, the discretionary portion of the 2001 federal budget contains a staggering amount of special-interest pork. Spending levels for federal programs, foreign aid, and wasteful agencies have been increasing steadily throughout the 1990s. Unfortunately, this Congress has not demonstrated a willingness to change its reckless spending habits. Recent partisan posturing aside, taxpayers once again will pay for record amounts of needless federal spending.
The 2001 budget submitted by the President calls for federal spending approaching 2 trillion dollars. Requested discretionary spending amounts to approximately 630 billion dollars. These figures obviously are very high, but the greatest outrage is that Congress is prepared to authorize spending above the levels requested by the President! The emerging year-end appropriations bills contain $35 to $45 billion in extra discretionary spending. In other words, American taxpayers would have been better off if Congress simply had rubber-stamped the Presidentís proposed budget! Congress has not only surrendered to the Presidentís demands, it has rewarded him with tens of billions in funding beyond his requests. Remember, this is the same President who told America that we could not "afford" to eliminate the marriage tax penalty or the estate tax.
Taxpayers should know that Congress passed a budget resolution earlier this year that limited 2001 discretionary spending to $600 billion (H. Con. Res. 290). Furthermore, when Congress passed the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, it authorized only $541 billion for 2001. These commitments simply have been abandoned in the spending frenzy spurred by the rosy "surplus" projections touted by both parties. Congress should be mindful that continued spending increases will quickly devour any one-year tax surplus, and that debt reduction should take precedent over any new spending.
Some statistics help put congressional spending habits in perspective. In the past three years alone, discretionary spending has increased by almost 16%. In those same three years, spending for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education has grown by nearly 30 percent. In just two years, spending for the department of Agriculture has increased by a whopping 47 percent! These discouraging trends reflect the longstanding obstacle to real budget reform: year-end pork spending for special interests to protect congressional seats.
A terrible example of pork-barrel spending is evident in the 2001 Military Construction appropriations bill. Several South American countries receive more than 1.3 billion taxpayer dollars to purchase helicopters and other military hardware to help them fight the "drug war." While this spending certainly is objectionable to any American opposed to foreign aid and meddling in foreign affairs, the truth is American companies that provide the helicopters directly benefit from the spending. The rhetoric in Congress about fighting drugs obscures the true goal of satisfying special interests. This represents exactly the type of unjustifiable spending that must be eliminated from the discretionary budget.
Taxpayers must demand fiscal accountability from Congress. Many members talk about fiscal conservatism, but the reckless year-end spending spree demonstrates a willingness to squander taxpayer dollars. Congress is now rushing headlong into authorizing unprecedented spending levels for 2001. Once again, taxpayers will be forced to pay the bill.