Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Singing for Their Supplemental

Late last night the House passed a supplemental appropriations bill ostensibly to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, lawmakers supplemented the supplemental with plenty of funds that will never get anywhere near the Middle East.

Before adopting the legislation the House added more than $21 billion in domestic spending to the measure. This includes $10 billion to cash-starved states to stave off teacher layoffs, $1 billion for youth summer jobs, $4.95 billion for Pell Grants (see our take on that money here), around $4.5 billion to settle two class action lawsuits against the government and $701 million for border security.

The extra spending is offset through $11.7 billion in rescissions and $4.7 in projected savings through changes to mandatory spending programs. But it is not too hard to see some of those rescissions getting rolled back. The White House is displeased that $800 million has been rescinded from its signature “Race to the Top” education reform initiative, and has even threatened to veto the bill over it. Another $2 billion on the chopping block comes from the pandemic preparedness fund of the Department of Health and Human Services. There is no doubt that money would be quickly restored, likely as unpaid-for emergency appropriations, in the case of a pandemic.

The bulk of the bill’s cost is not offset, considered as “emergency” spending that is not subject to pay-as-you-go rules. CRFB previously has warned against treating the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as emergencies and not budgeting for them.

In conjunction with the supplemental the House also passed it’s so-called “budget enforcement resolution.” While there was a great deal of debate over the war last night, there was no debate over the measure that will control how much the House spends in the next fiscal year. The deeming resolution, which was only released earlier in the day, was simply deemed as passed when the chamber narrowly approved the rule for debating the supplemental on a 215-210 vote. It sets a discretionary spending cap of $1.121 trillion for FY 2011. While this is $7 billion below what the White House requested in its budget, it falls far short of the traditional resolution that sets targets for at least 5 years and includes projections of future deficits.

There was a lot of song and dance last night, but not enough substance when it comes to fiscal responsibility.