Tag: Congress

2018 Is The Year Of Federal Budget Debauchery

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I am not being hyperbolic or using click bait with the headline you see above.

I have been involved with the federal budget in some capacity for over 40 years and, based on that experience, it’s actually quite easy for me to conclude that 2018 has been the worst year in U.S. history for anything and everything related to the federal budget.

Consider this.

Big Permanent Increases In The Deficit. The numbers are indisputable regardless of whether you’re a budget traditionalist that hates red ink or a political or economic denier that thinks the federal deficit doesn’t matter. The U.S. budget deficit is going to be close to or exceed $1 trillion in fiscal 2019 and is projected by both Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office to keep rising. A $1.5 trillion deficit in the near future is very likely and, if there’s an economic downturn, $2 trillion is definitely possible.

The blame for this year’s fiscal debauchery belongs squarely on the House and Senate Republican majorities and the GOP president.

What did Trump and the Republican Congress do this year when faced with these unprecedented-in-a-good-economy numbers? They ignored them and attempted to increase the deficit even further.

  • Trump still wanted $5 billion for his wall between the United States and Mexico
  • Trump proposed a new Department of Defense space force that will cost billions more than we’re currently spending.
  • Just before it recessed last week, the GOP-controlled House passed yet another tax cut that will add hundreds of billions more to the deficit and national debt if it’s enacted.
  • The fiscal 2019 appropriations that were enacted last week included billions of dollars in additional military and domestic spending.
  • There was also the $12 billion bailout for farmers to offset the impact of the Trump tariffs.
  • And there was the Trump $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal.

About the only thing that occurred this past year that should be considered deficit positive was the decision to reconsider/reschedule/cancel the military parade Trump wanted to stage this November because its projected cost was much higher than expected. But, for the record, the deficit impact of cancelling Trump’s parade wasn’t even a rounding error in terms of the total deficit and national debt.

Two things made this all so much worse.

First, the spike in the deficit was due to enacted changes in law rather than the short-term tax decreases and spending increases that happen during an economic downturn. Contrary to the temporary trillion-dollar deficits that occurred during the Obama administration because of the Great Recession, these GOP deficits are permanent.

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Second, this huge deficit increase was put in place when the U.S. economy was in comparatively good shape and smart fiscal policy dictated the opposite of what was done. We’re already starting to see the impact of this with high interest rates.

The End Of The Congressional Budget Process. Congress’s decision to ignore the process this year effectively means that the Congressional Budget Act has been abandoned.

The biggest example of that abandonment started with the GOP leadership deciding early that, even though it was legally required, Congress would not adopt a budget resolution this year. The reasoning was quite cynical: they didn’t want the Republicans running for reelection to have to go on record in favor of the trillion-dollar budget deficits their tax and spending policies created.

Accountability for the deficit was one of the main reasons the Congressional Budget Act was adopted. The act created budget resolutions specifically to force representatives and senators to vote on a single piece of legislation that compared total revenues and spending o they could be held accountable for the deficit or surplus.

This year, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) unilaterally decided that the budget act didn’t need to be implemented specifically because that accountability could hurt the GOP’s chances of retaining its majorities.

It’s hard to see the Congressional Budget Act ever being fully implemented again because of the Ryan/McConnell ploy. While Congress has not adopted budget resolutions in other years, those failures were mostly the result of an inability or unwillingness to compromise rather than a willful disregard of the law.

The second biggest example of the budget process being abandoned was the House’s and Senate’s failure to oversee Trump’s repeated efforts to impound, transfer and reprogram funds away from congressionally mandated priorities. Appropriations were frequently used by the White House very differently from they way they were supposed to be used and Congress did nothing.

The blame for this year’s fiscal debauchery belongs squarely on the House and Senate Republican majorities and the GOP president. Their policies and decisions all made the federal budget situation much much worse.

It won’t be getting better any time — as in years or even decades — soon.

Follow Stan Collender on Twitter @thebudgetguy

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Trump’s Military Parade Boondoggle: An AWOL Congress

By Norman Ornstein* and Stan Collender

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In the larger scheme of things, Donald Trump’s military parade is dwarfed by the implications of the Mueller investigation, the deep corruption in the Trump family and cabinet, the failures in policy from Puerto Rico to pollution, the threat of a trade war and the dangers of a shooting war with Iran or North Korea.

But the story behind the ill-fated and outrageous demand for a parade is itself important—as a damning case study in the unwillingness of a Republican Congress to lift the slightest finger to provide a check and balance against a presidency showing deep signs of corruption, autocracy and inept governance.

Trump’s parade did become an issue when Pentagon officials pegged its cost at $92 million–more than three times an early $30 million estimate and a whopping 767 percent higher than the original $12 million price tag. About $50 million was to come from the Pentagon with another $42 million from interagency partners like Homeland Security. In response to those reports, Trump quickly cancelled his parade.

But the fact that the parade has now been cancelled doesn’t mean that the politically sordid process by which this boondoggle almost happened shouldn’t be considered.

The one question that is especially important: Where was Congress?

You remember Congress, the branch of the federal government that, according to the U.S. Constitution, has the power of the purse, must pass the laws that appropriate taxpayer dollars and has the responsibility to oversee how the president actually spends those dollars as the appropriations laws require?

That Congress was completely AWOL during the whole Trump military parade caper.

This was the GOP Congress’s “see no evil/hear no evil/speak no evil” approach to oversight.

Congress’s failure to deal properly with Trump’s parade included every one of its Constitution-given federal spending responsibilities and its role in checking the executive branch and its head.

First, neither the House nor Senate even considered let alone passed an appropriation for the parade. No hearings were held, no witnesses were questioned and no formal or informal cost estimates were reviewed. There were no formal questions about the costs, who would pay or where the money would come from, not to mention even basic objections about the value of doing it in the first place.

By not holding hearings, asking questions or raising concerns, Congress was implicitly approving of both the idea of the parade and having the Pentagon and other departments spend literally unlimited taxpayer dollars to make it happen. And beyond the costs, the idea of a president demanding the kind of parade normally employed by dictators was yet another sign, however petty, of a president who identifies more with the autocrats than democrats on the world stage.

Congress was completely AWOL during the whole Trump military parade caper.

On the money front, no appropriation meant that all of the departments and agencies involved would have to take money from their other accounts to pay for Trump’s parade. Congress absolutely should have requested information about which existing programs would be short-changed to do this.

To be fair, every federal department and agency has limited authority to repurpose its appropriations without getting Congress to vote on those changes. But that has typically involved the appropriations committees being notified and the departments getting at least informal approval for what was being planned. Here again, Congress appears to have completely forsaken its responsibilities and the agencies involved, notably Defense and Homeland Security, would have to take funds from critical national security programs.

Everything about the parade was farcical—the lack of planning and coordination, the sources of funding, the nature of the parade, the timing, the clear antipathy towards it among key figures in the Pentagon and the sinister implications of a North Korea-style tribute to Dear Leader.

Those are all questions that should have been asked when Trump first demanded the parade and while the planning for it was still in its early stages. If Congress didn’t get satisfactory answers so that it could protect taxpayers and democracy, it should have insisted the parade be cancelled until there were facts rather than guesses.

All of this means that, for a frivolous exercise involving tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money taken from vital functions, the Republican Congress demonstrated its new standard of oversight: the “see no evil/hear no evil/speak no evil” approach.

To be sure, there are bigger outrages and boondoggles, waste of money and crony dealing than the parade Trump wanted. But this example underscores a larger brutal reality: The checks and balances the Framers expected by giving Congress the power of the purse and the power of oversight today is absent for an administration that requires it more rather than less.

As more facts emerge on Trump’s direct involvement in campaign finance misconduct and the ties between his campaign and Russia, and as malpractice and malfeasance in governance is on the rise, this fact is among the most troubling.

 

* Norman Ornstein (@normornstein) is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported.

Follow Stan Collender on Twitter @thebudgetguy

Ryan And McConnell: #Lock’em Up

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Over at Politico, Burgess Everett has a story this morning that says Congress deserves credit for doing routine things like passing some (but not all) of the appropriations for the coming year.

I have a very different take: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) should be arrested and jailed for not even trying to comply this year with the budget laws that apply to Congress.

The chairmen of the two budget committees — Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) — should be jailed for the same reason.

And I’d have every member of Congress talk about this at the start of every speech they give in their state or district and every candidate raise it prominently at their campaign rallies so their audiences can rhythmically chant “Lock’em up.”

The congressional budget process is not supposed to be optional. It’s a law created by the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 that Congress is required to implement every year.

This is Conspiracy to Commit Budget Noncompliance in the First Degree

(Before you think this was an initiative enacted by Democrats in 1974 to embarrass the GOP in 2018, keep in mind that the budget act passed more than four decades ago with a level of bipartisanship that today is both unimaginable and quaint. It was approved unanimously in the Senate, with just six no votes in the House and signed into law by a Republican president.)

But led by Ryan, McConnell, Enzi and Womack, the GOP-controlled Congress this year isn’t complying with the budget act. To the contrary, the Republican congressional leadership intentionally decided not to do the most important thing the law requires — adopting a budget resolution for the coming fiscal year.

The budget resolution is the only part of the annual budget-spending-tax process that Congress is legally required to do. Appropriations and tax legislation is completely discretionary.

Ryan and friends decided to break the law and not do a budget resolution for totally political reasons. The revenue and spending policies the GOP has put in place since the last budget was adopted have ballooned the budget deficit and national debt. Not doing a fiscal 2019 budget resolution meant that House and Senate Republicans avoid having to vote in favor of those deficits before the election and stops them from handing a very-tough-to-explain issue to their Democratic opponents.

The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act was adopted to prevent this exact thing from happening. Until it was put in place, representatives and senators voted for the tax cuts and spending increases that spiked the deficit and debt but were never required to vote on a single bill that showed the impact of those votes.

An annual budget resolution was supposed to be the answer to this problem. For the first time in American history, members of Congress were legally required to go on record on the deficit and debt so their constituents would know where they stood and could vote accordingly.

Compounding the crime of no budget resolution is the fact that this was an intentional decision by Ryan, McConnell, Enzi and Womack rather than, as has happened in the past, an inadvertent byproduct of the House and Senate or Republicans and Democrats not being able to come to an agreement.

That makes this a far more serious — Conspiracy to Commit Budget Noncompliance in the First Degree — and its leaders should be locked up immediately.

 

Follow Stan Collender on Twitter @thebudgetguy