Despite Talk of Cuts, Members of Congress Push More Spending

Even in this new age of austerity, sequestration and budget cutting rhetoric, powerful members of Congress are having their way, defending favorite programs and finding money for pet projects...

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Rep. Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, joins with other members of the committee as he departs a press conference at the U.S. Capitol where he unveiled his budget plan in Washington, March 12, 2013.

Correction appended March 12

Like many House Republicans, Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho supports “drastically reducing discretionary spending” and warns that further growth in national debt could be “disastrous for the economy.” But as chairman of a powerful appropriations subcommittee in the House, Simpson takes a different tack, especially when it comes to programs that impact his home district.

“Simpson Secures Wildfire Funding in House Budget Bill,” his office announced last week in a press release, trumpeting Simpson’s “instrumental” role in adding $570 million in additional funds for wildfire suppression in a bill that passed the House Wednesday. Idaho has been particularly hard hit by recent fires, and the National Interagency Fire Center is located on the edge of his congressional district. “Idaho and the West faced an intense fire season in 2013,” Simpson said in the release, “requiring more funding than initially budgeted to protect communities and manage resources.”

Simpson is by no means an exception. Even in this new age of austerity, sequestration and budget cutting rhetoric, powerful members of Congress are having their way, defending favorite programs and finding money for pet projects. Key committee assignments can still mean millions for constituents back home. “In this earmark moratorium era, it’s less about stuffing in your pork projects than protecting your special interests back home,” explains Steve Ellis, the vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group that seeks to identify wasteful spending.

(MORE: In Rare Dose of Comity, Congress Takes Early Steps to Avoid Government Shutdown)

Consider the Speaker John Boehner, who has been publicly leading the charge for less federal outlays. “Spending is the problem here in Washington,” he likes to say. But he joined a bipartisan group of Senators and Congressman in 2011 to push for $181 million in funding the Army does not want for an upgrade program at the Abrams tank manufacturing plant in Lima, Ohio, just a few dozen miles from Boehner’s own Ohio Congressional district. The Army has already announced that it plans to phase out the cold-war era tank, and had sought to wind down production in Lima. Last May, the Obama Administration, citing a “fiscally constrained environment,” formally objected to the new funding. In a letter to the former Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, last year, more than 100 members of Congress, argued that “a modest and continued Abrams production for the Army is necessary to preserve the industrial base.”

Small-ticket items have also made the cut. Two programs for at-risk youth run by the military, Youth Challenge and Starbase Youth Program, were each funded at $5 million in the Defense portion of the recently passed House bill, which was created in conjunction with Senate appropriators. “If the program did not have champions on the Hill, it would not be getting this money,” says John Goheen, of the National Guard Association of America, a non-profit that supports the programs. Another outside nonprofit, the National Guard Youth Foundation, is also a supporter of the programs. It boasts an “Honorary Board” that includes many of the top appropriators in Congress, including Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., the chair of the Senate Appropriations committee and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who chairs the appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security.

(MORE: A Pentagon Budget Primer, Leading to Two Questions for the Defense Secretary)

The final report from House appropriators on the bill that passed last week includes several other detailed examples of potentially money-saving audits that were not pursued. One proposal instructed the Department of Defense Inspector General to provide reports to Congress on the cost of Pentagon-sponsored conferences.  Another dropped was a plan to require the Air Force to submit cost-benefit analyses for its force structure proposals. The House bill also included additional funding for nuclear weapons modernization, customs and border protection, new weather satellites, federal prisons and detention beds of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Of course, all of these changes are within the rights of Congress, which under the constitution has the power to tax and spend. But in most cases the details have attracted scant public attention. When the House passed the budget bill last week, Boehner called it “straightforward and reasonable.” This week, the Senate is expected to introduce and begin debate on its own version of a funding bill. Congressional leaders and President Obama say they hope to agree on a final funding package to avoid a government shutdown on March 27.

MORE: Congress Looks Past the Sequester Deadline and Braces for Long Fight

Correction: Speaker John Boehner sent a letter to the Army in 2011 urging a reconsideration of plans to temporarily shutter a tank production plant in Lima, Ohio, and his office publicly made a statement signaling his objection to the Army’s plans to stop production at the plant. The original version of this story said Boehner helped to insert the funding provision that passed the House last week that will provide $181 million in funding for tank production that the Army has not requested. A spokesman for Boehner says he played no role in inserting that provision in the bill. The story has been corrected to reflect this.

25 comments
Onepatriot
Onepatriot

Looks like John Boehner cares more about those military contracts than replacing that bridge between Ohio and Kentucky that's about to fall down.

Superdee15
Superdee15

@HonorInOffice Good luck putting honor up at the Hill.. I don't think it ever was there in the first place..

Gene Milone
Gene Milone

It is called hypocrisy, and Republicans in Congress are especially good at it. However, yes, when the private sector won't or can't spend, who else will fund essential projects? Of course Repubs only want to satisfy their cronies and patrons, not exactly the average person in need of a job.

Pamela Parham
Pamela Parham

I would love to know what the annual total of all the extras put into passed legislation is. Bet that would take a big chunk out of our debt.

Vh Hurtado
Vh Hurtado

Defense spending is a runway sacred cow. Google the story of the air force that didn't need hundreds of C-130s in their inventory but congress shoved them down their throats anyway. Most of the planes sit idle in parking lots almost permanently,

Chad M. Harris
Chad M. Harris

With what money? Every U.S. Dollar coming in to the federal government is already spoken for, the national credit card it maxed out...

FilmRic
FilmRic

This complex issue faces a simple solution. Dont let congressmen vote or propose for earmarks for thei own district. Make them sell it to someone else to get it submitted, and at least you would have a a bit of a check in place to current craziness!

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

"a modest and continued Abrams production for the Army is necessary to preserve the industrial base.”

aka corporate welfare

Welfare for corporations is ok with the R's, just don't ask for it to be for poor people.

KountyKobbler
KountyKobbler

It is past time for compromise of both sides The only real tax increase was a return to former rates when the budget was balanced under President Clinton had it been left in place  a lot of the debt that happened under GW Bush would never of existed If  he had paid off the Bonds in the Social security  trust fund in place of  handing tax refunds  to wealthy  that did not need it   we would be in much better fiscal shape.  but that would have been logical

Start with Congress and  automate the office work  no need for pages  with direct communications between elected leaders get the ego on the shelf and face one another  or  automated e mail. 

Convert all  Federal retirement accounts to  the Social Security Trust fund  giving Congress the incentive  to preserve it regardless of party. and end double dipping  retirement from treasury If  a person receives active salary  his retirement income  is held till retirement starts encouraging  the actual retirement and term limits via incentive greed while saving  money that  can go towards national debt.

MrObvious
MrObvious

Fudge citizens, buy more stuff that blows up. Logic according to the legally bribed.

MrBenGhazi
MrBenGhazi

But in a letter to the former Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, last year, more than 100 members of Congress, argued that "a modest and continued Abrams production for the Army is necessary to preserve the industrial base."


Telling! "But we have to give them this money, even though the Army doesn't want it, because our buddies in corporate do!"
Politicians are unbelievable. When it benefits them, we need to reduce the deficit. When it benefits them, we need to expand the deficit. They should all be fired.

antonmarq
antonmarq

Gee, where have I heard this before, during and after..... Screw the GOP, you want a budget cut, bend over, too.


PaulDirks
PaulDirks

I remember how during the 2008 campaign, I used to get annoyed with Michael's approach to discussing earmarks. But what he's reporting matches up nicely with what polling consistently finds. Everybody opposes 'spending' unless they are asked specifically about the spending in question at which point their position abruptly reverses. Apparently Congresscritters are subject to the same phenomenon.


outsider
outsider

Simpson is by no means an exception. Even in this new age of austerity, sequestration and budget cutting rhetoric, powerful members of Congress are having their way, defending favorite programs and finding money for pet projects. Key committee assignments can still mean millions for constituents back home. “In this earmark moratorium era, it’s less about stuffing in your pork projects than protecting your special interests back home,” explains Steve Ellis, the vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group that seeks to identify wasteful spending.


But you have to cut med/SS!!! Otherwise, the SKY WILL FALL!!!



bobell
bobell

Time to quote St. Augustine again: "God, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet."  Republicans keep saying we have a spending problem.  They're as much a part of the spending problem as the Democrats.

Actually, again repeating myself, the spending problem right now is that we don't have enough of it.  Slowly the sequester is taking its bite.  Maybe when they notice the toothmarks on them, the Republicans will come to their senses.

Nah!

bobell
bobell

@Viable Op Terrific, another regressive tax. Sure beats limiting deductions for the rich, or taking carried interest as earned income, or removing the ceiling on the SS component of FICA. When in doubt, afflict the neediest.  A combination of added regressive taxes and reduced spending on programs for the working class and poor -- just the way to get rid of income inequality.

P.S I didn't read your blog post. I never read spanned blog post.  If you have something to say to us, say it.

TyPollard
TyPollard

@PaulDirks 

Michael approach to discussing anything in politics has always annoyed me.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@bobell You asked fot it!

The problem with earmarks is that EVERYBODY does it. For weeks now I've been comparing the Federal trough to a lottery pool. Everyone pays into one big pot and then competes to see who can draw the most money back out. If anyone were serious about reducing earmarks, then they would simultaneously be favoring doubling State Income or Sales taxes. By acting like a financial heat-sink, the Federal government gets to participate in the sleight of hand that allows people to think that they're getting something for nothing.

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The only difference between the Republicans and the Democrats is that the Republicans howl about the process while the Democrats simply shrug their shoulders and proceed.
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Guess which approach is more dishonest?

FuzzyPotato
FuzzyPotato

@PaulDirks @bobell But does it matter if both sides are dishonest?  It's not about being "less dishonest" than the other guy.  It's about not being dishonest at all.