As Congress prepares to pass a final flurry of bills in the last weeks of the year, Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions is worried that lawmakers will falsely claim spending cuts by paying for actions with money that otherwise wouldn’t be spent.
Sessions is referring to the “war gimmick,” a tactic that exploits a rule about how the Congressional Budget Office accounts for spending.
“The CBO baseline assumes that war spending … will grow every year from the $159 billion provided in FY 2011 and cost $1.8 trillion over the FY 2012-2021 period,” explains a release from Sessions’ office.
Since troops are pulling out of Afghanistan, the war budget is already decreasing. Sessions points out that by President Obama’s own estimation, spending in that area will likely fall by $50 billion next year.
That means a lot of money the CBO assumes will be spent on the wars actually won’t be.
However, some have proposed using that money to fund some of the things that Congress must pass before the ball drops in Times Square, including funding the extension of unemployment benefits in the face of the recession, the so-called ‘doc fix,’ which ensures that the reimbursement rates for doctors who take Medicare patients is not cut, and raising the income at which the alternative minimum tax rate sets in to keep up with inflation.
If money from war spending was used to pay for those things, as long as the full amount wasn’t used, the CBO would allow Congress to claim that they had made a spending cut. (RELATED: Full coverage of Jeff Sessions)
But that spending cut would come from money that wouldn’t have been spent in the first place, and would amount to what Sessions called “just one more fraudulent Washington gimmick.”
Sessions likened that type of accounting to “a homeowner, deeply in debt, saying he saved money building a $10,000 swimming pool because a year ago he learned that his property tax was going down.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has already suggested using the war savings to pay for the smorgasbord of bills.
“We can easily go get this money out of the Overseas Contingency Fund [war savings]. Easily,” Pelosi told Talking Points Memo. “Pay for that, pay for [the Medicare doc fix]. We shouldn’t pay for unemployment insurance — it’s an emergency. Money’s been paid into it. As money is continued to be paid into it, it evens out. So we shouldn’t have to offset that. But the other two, we can just go to [war savings] and get it done. If you insist on paying for that.”