Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fiscal Folly

A belated happy (fiscal) new year to all!

October 1 has come and gone and, as usual, Congress has not passed the appropriations for the new fiscal year, so federal agencies must operate off of a "continuing resolution".

According to the Library of Congress’ website on the “Status of Appropriations Legislation for Fiscal Year 2010’ the only appropriations bill that Congress has passed and the President has signed into law is P.L.111-68, which funds operations for the legislative branch. You can tell where their priorities are.

The funding of the business of government (whether legitimate or illegitimate, constitutional or unconstitutional) is usually tied to separate appropriations bills. This year, the appropriations are divided as follows:

Defense Energy and Water
Financial Services
Homeland Security
Interior and Environment
State/Foreign Operations

They usually don't get around to passing anything into law until March, and by then they usually abandon any attempt at treating the bills separately. They just throw them all together into a witch’s brew called an “Omnibus” spending bill, and voilĂ , the government is funded for the rest of the year.

The annual delays wouldn't be a bad thing if they kept a reign on spending, but alas they do not. First of all, as with most other bills, I seriously doubt that many members of Congress have a solid idea of what they are voting for. Who knows what else has been thrown into the witch’s cauldron along with the President’s original request. I am open to correction, but I don’t ever recall Congress ever authorizing anything less than what was requested in the President’s budget, only more. After all, they have to add all the pork and earmarks to satisfy the folks back home:

"Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."

In the meantime, federal departments and agencies have been operating the entire year on the baseline of the previous fiscal year’s budget. This of course leaves no possibility that wasteful and inefficient programs will ever be cut. Government will forever continue to grow. (The only exception that I know of was in the early eighties when Ronald Reagan had the testosterone to actually decrease the size of government, including Reductions in Force.)

When the omnibus spending bill eventually passes in February or March, federal agencies will start to go into high gear to quickly spend any new funding received on top of the old baseline. With the fiscal year more than halfway gone, there will be a mad scramble to spend money before it “expires”, which will inevitably result in poor planning, lack of coordination and other sundry inefficiencies. And on top of that, you can be certain that Congress will add billions in “supplemental” or “emergency“ appropriations before we get into the next fiscal year and start the madness all over again. Your tax dollars at work!

1 comment:

JD Curtis said...

Thank you for your insight Leo.