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Supplemental Budget Growth Pushes Administration Away from a “Clean Bill” June 19, 2009

Posted by Stephen Abott in Analysis, News.
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In April, President Obama sent to Congress the second emergency supplemental appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2009 that requested $83.4 billion for defense and foreign affairs spending. Prior to Congress’ consideration of the bill, Obama stated that supplemental appropriations should be limited to truly unanticipated events, and ongoing programs should be placed in base departmental budgets. However, this week the bill passed Congress at more than $105 billion, approximately $22 billion more than the original request, due to the insertion of politically popular programs by both the White House and Congress.

Much of the increase in funding was the result of politically expedient programs that would likely pass Congress on their own, but would risk significant Republican push-back. One such addition was the $5 billion request for IMF borrowing authority. The President promised this funding during a conference with other world leaders in support of the international financial system. This money falls outside of what should be appropriated by an emergency supplemental appropriations bill. The IMF funding, while obviously important and time-sensitive, would be better placed within a separate appropriations bill. However, the president likely added the $5 billion to the supplemental because it was be the easiest and quickest way to fund the new IMF initiatives. The White House is learning that it may be politically expedient to add unrelated spending priorities to supplemental funding bills. Congress also added a $1 billion “cash-for-clunkers” provision to the bill, providing vouchers for consumers who trade in fuel inefficient vehicles for more eco-friendly ones. A non-emergency provision, this addition adds to the cost of the bill but also delivers support from Midwest members who may fear backing the supplemental.

Another significant reason for the increase in the FY 09 emergency supplemental was the addition of unrequested but politically useful procurement items. Members of Congress added a series of items that help defense contractors in their own districts. This included additional funding for C-17 and C-130 transport aircraft and the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle Fund (MRAP). The addition of these items promote parochial interests but often run counter to stated national security policy. Additionally, if included in the DOD base budget, the proposals would be debated, as the defense base budget process includes extensive legislative review. Adding these systems to the supplemental allow programs with limited support to pass, when they may otherwise encounter resistance under the normal budget process.

Finally, the addition to the FY 09 emergency supplemental comes from necessary additions added to respond to obvious emergency situations. The largest of these was the more than $7 billion for swine flu contingencies. Such funding is exactly why supplemental funding bills are created, to respond to unforeseen and emergency needs.

Taken together, the additions to the FY 09 emergency supplemental result in funding that is larger than expected and includes some programs that should be funded through the regular appropriations process. This, during a time of fiscal uncertainty, is far from ideal. Yet, inserting unwarranted additions into emergency supplemental appropriation bills remains both politically popular and expedient.

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