Homeland Security: Authorization and Appropriation
We have cost estimates for two new bills this week that provide a neat illustration of how government spending works.
You probably know that there’s plenty o’ government spending, but if you want to do anything about it you should probably know how it works.
Everything the federal government does is supposed to be authorized by law. The bills that authorize the government to do things are called—wait for it—”authorizations.” (Finally, the feds came up with a name for something that’s not confusing!)
Authorization is only half the battle, because nothing can be done without spending to support it. The government’s authority to spend money comes in different kinds of bills: “appropriations.”
Appropriations bills are the bills that say the Treasury Department can actually issue checks. If there’s no money, nothing is supposed to happen, so appropriations bills are pretty darn important, too.
This week a bill called H.R. 3857, the Public Transit Security and Local Law Enforcement Support Act has a new cost estimate. (Cost estimates often come out when bills are on the move.) The bill authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to make grants to states for security improvements to public transportation systems.
Total price of the authorized spending in the bill: $6.51.
Also this week, we have an estimate for the Homeland Security appropriations bills—one in the House, one in the Senate. H.R. 5855, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2013 is the House bill, and it spends about $448 per U.S. family. S. 3216, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2013 is the Senate bill: $451 per U.S. family.
The final appropriations bill that comes out of Congress will spend the money on all the programs that Congress has authorized. See how that works? Authorizations and appropriations.
Nothing in Washington, D.C. is simple, of course, so not let’s touch on a couple of complexities.
Programs without authorizations. Oh holy bejeebus. There are federal government programs that don’t have authorizations. Often, their authorizations have expired, but the programs just keep on keepin’ on. Aren’t they outright illegal? Maybe so. But the government folks just keep doing what they do and nobody really says no. Nevermind. Ignore that. Nothing to see here. Except—if you’re really interested—this list of appropriations without authorizations.
Mandatory spending Sometimes you’ll hear people on Congress talk about “mandatory” versus “discretionary” spending. That’s a little fib that Congress tells itself about what money they control. “Mandatory” spending has permanent appropriations, but that doesn’t mean that Congress can’t go in and pare that spending back any dang time it wants. Congress makes the laws, you see. Ain’t nothing mandatory about “mandatory spending” if it decides not to spend that money.
So there you have it: authorization, appropriations, and a few little snippets of nonsense. Go forward with this information a better informed American!