Democrats set to consider $197 billion in unpaid-for ’emergency spending’

Jon Ward Contributor
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Democrats in Congress have added $173 billion in new spending to the federal deficit in just three months since they passed a law requiring that any new expenditures be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget.

They will try this week to add another $197 billion in two separate measures. The House is expected to vote Wednesday on a package of extensions in government aid to unemployed Americans, Medicaid funding for states, and tax breaks that will add $134 billion to the $1.4 trillion deficit.

The Senate is expected to vote this week on a $63 billion supplemental spending bill. Half of that amount would go to the war in Afghanistan. The rest is for aid to Haiti, settlement of land claims with American Indians and discrimination claims of black farmers, compensation of war veterans exposed to Agent Orange, foreign aid to Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and replenishment of the government’s disaster relief fund.

Republicans, who oppose some of the spending outright, say that at the very least all but the $33 billion that the Pentagon needs to continue funding a surge of 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan should be offset by spending cuts.

“Anything that’s not directly related to fighting the wars should be paid for,” said Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican.

Some of the extenders bill is paid for. The extenders bill actually has a higher price tag than $134 bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The full cost is $174 billion. But the measure does create $40 billion in revenues.

So far, it appears that Democrats plan to escape their own rules that require them to offset all new spending by declaring the measures to be “emergency spending.”

New spending can also be offset by tax increases under what is known as pay-as-you-go rules, but Republicans oppose tax hikes most of the time and say the problem is too much spending. Many Democrats believe tax increases are necessary but realize that they are highly unpopular with voters.

Another $23 billion in emergency spending on the nation’s schools is waiting in the wings as well.

Aware that moves toward spending discipline are needed at a time when the national debt is approaching the $13 trillion mark and deficits are slated to add another $10 trillion to that over the next decade, President Obama on Monday proposed to Congress legislation that would allow him to pick items out of legislation sent to him by Congress and mark them for elimination. The measure would give Congress final veto power, however, over whether the president’s cuts are approved or rejected.

The measure is not expected to be passed by Congress.

When Congress passed PAYGO legislation in February saying they would not spend any more taxpayer money without cutting fat out of the budget elsewhere, Obama hailed lawmakers for committing the country to fiscal responsibility.

“The United States of America should pay as we go and live within our means again — just like responsible families and businesses do,” Obama said on Feb. 18, a few days after signing statutory PAYGO into law.

PAYGO was first enacted in 1990, with even stricter rules than the current law, but expired in 2002. When Democrats regained control of Congress in 2007 they put PAYGO rules in place but those did not carry the weight of law and were flouted constantly.

At a town hall meeting in New Hampshire two weeks before PAYGO passed, Obama said of the new law: “That’s how we’ll get our deficit under control.”

“That’s something that Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree to — if we could just stop playing politics, get past the Washington game,” Obama said.

Only not so much.

Since Congress passed PAYGO, Democrats have added $173 billion in new spending without cutting anything to offset it, according to a tally by Republicans in the Senate. Republican senators have on a few occasions tried to block the spending, but with almost no success.

Thune, the GOP’s chief deputy whip in the Senate, said that in particular when the extenders bill comes to the Senate later this week, “there isn’t anybody, I think, in our conference who is going to abide $150 billion in spending that’s going to be added to the debt.”

Thune suggested that unused and unobligated funds from the $787 billion stimulus bill, passed a year ago, be redirected to pay for the new spending.

The Obama administration and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, did not respond to requests for comment.

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