- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2005

President Bush’s weekend announcement that he will send at least $50 million to Pakistan for earthquake relief has prompted questions from taxpayers’ groups, government watchdogs and at least one congressman about emergency federal spending.

Federal spending has skyrocketed in part because of unexpected costs to deal with devastating hurricanes that ravaged the Gulf Coast last month. Taxpayers also are footing the bill for the $200 billion war in Iraq and huge federal programs.

“The one thing this country has always been is generous, and it’s always reasonable to support these types of tragedies around the world,” said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste. “The question is, what kind of planning is there for the availability of this money?”

Annie Patnaude, spokeswoman for the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union, said lawmakers are not making cuts to offset the expenditures.

“We are definitely concerned that this is going to affect the tax cuts and long-term tax relief,” she said. “There are better ways to address crises than just throwing money at the problems. That’s something that Congress does a lot of, just throw money at the problems.”

Republican House members have proposed a plan to cut another $15 billion from budgeted federal benefits programs to offset the costs of the hurricanes. Across-the-board cuts also are planned, excluding budgets for defense and the Department of Homeland Security.

The president often will send money to troubled regions in the United States or around the world through emergency supplemental spending bills. Once approved by Congress, the bills appropriate cash expenditures that are added directly to the national debt, not to the annual budget deficit, Mr. Schatz said.

Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican, has calculated that the United States doles out between $6 billion and $10 billion annually in unexpected costs through supplemental spending bills.

He has proposed bills in previous sessions of Congress to establish a rainy-day fund for emergencies.

“The problem is that it doesn’t get done, simply because we spend all the money now, because everybody would rather build roads or build dams or do some project at home than have money standing by in case there’s an emergency,” Mr. Castle said.

Mr. Schatz said that because emergency spending bills don’t count against the deficit, to lawmakers “it’s like free money.”

“That’s maybe one of the reasons they won’t budget for it. It would mean you’d have to reduce something in every one of the agencies’ budgets throughout the year and then you’d have a reserve,” he said.

Costs of emergencies, especially natural disasters, are distributed among numerous federal agencies, Mr. Schatz said.

Although catastrophes on the scale of Hurricane Katrina would not be covered under a rainy-day fund, Mr. Castle said, set-aside cash could pay for many unexpected costs.

“The only thing that these tragedies do is make the waste in Congress seem more wasteful,” he said.

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