House Speaker John A. Boehner wants to use a vote on tax hikes for millionaires to pressure President Obama into putting real spending reductions on the table. Instead of cuts, however, Senate Democrats are quietly preparing to add billions in new outlays to the deal.
Earlier this month, the White House asked Congress to provide $60.4 billion for recovery efforts related to Hurricane Sandy. The administration's request carefully used all the code words needed to bust through the caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act. Though the request stated the funding may be "designated as an emergency requirement if it is sudden, urgent, unforeseen, and temporary," the presidential wish list and the package reported out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday were chock-full of things that in no way fit the statutory definition of an emergency.
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma on Monday released a list of wasteful, no-strings-attached outlays meant to cover ordinary expenses, including $336 million for taxpayer-supported Amtrak and $5.3 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers -- more than the corps' annual budget.
The fiscal hawks noted $2 million would go toward "repairing damage to the roofs of museums in Washington, D.C., while many in Hurricane Sandy's path still have no roof over their own heads." Another $12.9 billion would go toward future disaster-mitigation activities and studies. Most of this "urgent" money in the bill won't be spent for two years.
Mr. Obama and his congressional allies hope to sneak these expenditures through a budget-cap loophole allowing unlimited "emergency" spending. "It's an example of how the emergency designation becomes a Christmas tree," said Patrick Louis Knudsen, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. "Congress and the administration claim savings on one end and then spend it on the other, through the loophole. What's the point of having spending caps if you are going to blow through them?"
Few in Washington seem to care about balancing the budget anymore, as demonstrated by the outrageous size of this disaster-relief package. "This is way more than necessary, and they should offset it anyway," Mr. Knudsen said. "We're running trillion-dollar deficits. If the emergency spending is so important, then find something less important to cut."
Congress will likely attach the $60 billion slush fund to one of the must-pass packages that will get jammed through the legislative process to avert the fiscal cliff. This plan has advantages for both Mr. Boehner and Mr. Obama. The speaker only has to whip his members to pass one tax-and-spend bill instead of two. The president is getting his whole Santa wish list of shiny new tax hikes, more "stimulus" cash and the so-called emergency spending, all wrapped up with a red bow.
Lawmakers are setting up another "grand bargain" supposedly meant to tackle the $16.4 trillion debt. It's all for show. Mr. Obama keeps getting the ever-growing government he's always wanted, while taxpayers are left paying the bills. It's a raw deal, and Mr. Boehner needs to take a stand for Americans tired of sending more of their income to Washington.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
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