Fiscal Monkey Business
Congress pulls another stunt to break the sequester spending caps.
WSJ Editorial, October 1, 2013
As the budget histrionics continue, both parties are slyly doing what Congress does best—spend more money. We reported last week that the GOP House has already agreed with Senate Democrats to raise spending in 2014 by $19 billion over the Budget Control Act caps—to $986 billion from $967 billion. But now Senate budget experts have identified in the spending bill some $18 billion more of mostly phantom savings from "changes in mandatory spending programs," also known appropriately enough as Chimps.
Here's how it works. While the budget caps cover mostly discretionary spending, they include a few mandatory programs. The House bill moves $18 billion from those programs from 2014 and pushes them into future years. For example, the bill moves into 2015 $8.9 billion from the Justice Department's "crime victims fund" and $1.6 billion from the Justice and Treasury mandatory budgets, and another $800 million from the Department of Agriculture into 2015 and beyond.
This frees up $18 billion more for Congress to spend in fiscal 2014 on discretionary accounts like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting without technically violating the sequester caps. It's a classic shell game to let Congress spend more while pretending it doesn't. The Members are betting they'll make a deal before 2015 to break the caps, so they'll get to spend more this year and more in the future too.
"We're almost $36 billion over the caps," says GOP Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a rare spending whistleblower. Too bad no one is listening, least of all the Republicans who are beating their chests over a "defund ObamaCare" fight they have no chance to win. They are, however, losing leverage over spending.