“Disaster” Spending Debacle

Just a few short months ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and his colleagues nearly shut down the government over disaster-relief funding.  As it turned out, the Federal Emergency Management Agency did not actually need the extra $1 billion. Harry Reid simply manufactured a crisis as a way to spend more taxpayer money.

In two mostly ignored votes over the weekend, the Senate found a way to soak taxpayers again.  Senators approved (72-27) more than $8 billion in disaster-related spending and then rejected (43-56) a resolution that would have paid for the new, non-emergency spending.  The result was more than $8 billion in new deficit spending.

Heritage’s Patrick Louis Knudsen explains the origins of the massive spending loophole:

…little noticed when the [Budget Control Act] BCA was enacted, is called “disaster relief.” It allows Congress to “adjust” the BCA’s $1.043 trillion discretionary spending cap for fiscal year (FY) 2012—that is, to simply raise the limit… 

If this subterfuge were used to its full extent, it would push total FY 2012 discretionary budget authority to $1.054 trillion, increasing spending by $4 billion above FY 2011… 

.. unlike the sieve for “emergency” spending—usually employed in the middle of a budget year, ostensibly for unexpected events—the disaster funds are to remedy damage and loss from episodes that already have passed.  …  Because all these supposed needs are known, the additional spending should be budgeted for under the BCA cap and, at a minimum, offset by reductions elsewhere. The authors of the BCA, prodded by the Administration, simply chose not to.

Not surprisingly, conservatives in Congress – even those who voted for the BCA – have grown increasingly frustrated over the multi-billion dollar loophole.  CQ (sub. req’d) explains the offset scheme, technically an “enrollment resolution”:

Partly in a bid to assuage conservatives who remain dissatisfied with the fiscal 2012 spending level their leaders agreed to in August, House Republican leaders used the enrollment correction resolution (H Con Res 94) to carry language to offset the cost of the $8.6 billion disaster relief bill (HR 3672).  … 

The enrollment resolution gambit allowed House Republicans to claim a symbolic — if pyrrhic — victory in voting for budget discipline. But the Democrats and President Obama will walk away with the legislative upper hand, since the $8.6 billion in disaster aid will become law without the 1.83 percent cut from most programs.

 The complicated legislative procedure was designed to fail, as there was absolutely no pressure placed on Senate Democrats to change their position and support the offsets.  Chalk it up to just another spending debacle flying under the radar in Washington.

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