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Archive for the ‘Appropriations/Budget’ Category

The Bills Keep Rolling In

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

stack-of-moneyThough Congress was out last week, another spending bill was introduced, and we found cost information for another. So let’s take a further look at Congress’s unfolding spending plans.

If you want to see what’s happened so far, take a look at the chart in our post from last week, “Appropriations Progress!

The newest bill is H.R. 5016, the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2015. Introduced by Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), it funds a long list of agencies and activities of government, to the tune of about $415 per U.S. family. Take a look:

Department of the Treasury
District of Columbia
The Judiciary
Executive Office of the President (including Council of Economic Advisers, Office of Management and Budget, Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the White House)
Administrative Conference of the United States
Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation
Consumer Product Safety Commission
Election Assistance Commission
Federal Communications Commission
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of the Inspector General
Federal Election Commission
Federal Labor Relations Authority
Federal Trade Commission
General Services Administration
Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation
Merit Systems Protection Board
Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation
National Archives and Records Administration
National Credit Union Administration
Office of Government Ethics
Office of Personnel Management and Related Trust Funds
Office of Special Counsel
Postal Regulatory Commission
Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board
Recovery and Accountability Transparency Board
Securities and Exchange Commission
Selective Service System
Small Business Administration
United States Postal Service, Payment to the Postal Service Fund
United States Tax Court
General Provisions, Government-wide

And here’s…

Next there’s S. 2499, the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2015. It would spend about $435 per U.S. family on the State Department—and so much more. The bill was introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

Here’s the current vote on S. 2499. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

Appropriations Progress!

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

pile-of-moneyJust under the wire!

That’s how the House’s State Department/Foreign Operations appropriations bill came in. It was reported to the House Friday, bringing the House to nine of twelve annual spending bills that have at least been prepared for House floor debate ahead of the July 4th week.

The last several years, Congress has almost always failed to follow the ordinary spending process. In that process, after Congress agrees to a budget, the House and Senate each pass the multiple appropriations (spending) bills that fund the various parts of the federal government. The bills are supposed to pass during the summer, providing agencies in the executive branch plenty of time to prepare for their new budgetary situation when the new fiscal year starts October 1st.

To demonstrate responsible management, the House Appropriations Committee‘s chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said earlier this year that he would move all bills out of his committee before the August recess.

With the State/Foreign Ops bill reported on Friday, he’s gotten most of the bills out before the July 4th holiday. Fireworks! He’s on track.

Below is a table showing each of the appropriations bills and its current status. As you can see, the House has already passed five appropriations bills. The other four listed have been reported—that is, reported by the committee to the full House for debate.

The Senate is not doing too badly, though it’s definitely behind. Five bills have been reported and, in the case of another two, the Senate plans to take up the House bill, which is perfectly fine. (In one case, the Senate has a reported bill but plans to debate the House bill.) The Senate hasn’t passed any appropriations bills yet.

There are gaps, of course. Neither the House nor the Senate has produced a Financial Services/General Government bill. And neither has a Labor/Health and Human Services bill. Labor/HHS is usually the biggest bill of the year (just ahead of Defense), and it always seems to come along last.

Getting the appropriations bills done on time is good. This is not only so agencies can plan for the coming fiscal year, but so that the public has a little more of a chance to oversee Congress’s work. When the bills aren’t done and Congress has to do continuing resolutions and omnibus bills to keep the government running, the public is shut out of what is already a very arcane process.

Click on the bills in the table below to see how much they spend, to comment on them, and to vote them up or down based on your opinion of them. By clicking “Read the Bill” or “Read an Analysis of the Bill” in the “Learn More” box on each bill page, you can access the strange world of congressional spending and see all the different places the money goes…

Appropriations Bill House Senate
Agriculture H.R. 4800 – debated S. 2389 – reported
Commerce/Justice/Science H.R. 4660 – passed S. 2437 – reported (H.R. 4660 to be debated)
Defense H.R. 4870 – passed
Energy & Water H.R. 4923 – reported
Financial Svcs/Gen’l Govt
Homeland Security H.R. 4903 – reported S. 2534 – reported
Interior & Environment
Legislative Branch H.R. 4487 – passed H.R. 4487 – to be debated
Labor/HHS
Military Construction/Veterans H.R. 4486 – passed H.R. 4486 – to be debated
State/Foreign Operations H.R. 5013 – reported S. 2499 – reported
Transportation/HUD H.R. 4745 – passed S. 2438 – reported

The Big Spending Bill They Call “Minibus”

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

money up closeThe House has been plodding along, passing spending bills for the 2015 fiscal year (which begins October 1st). The bills the House has passed include the Commerce/Justice/Science spending bill (about $580 per U.S. family), Legislative Branch ($34), Military/Veterans ($1,500), and Transportation/HUD ($1,100).

The House Agriculture spending bill (about $1,200 per U.S. family) is on tap for passage soon.

Now the Senate aims to play a little catch-up by passing a small omnibus bill—a “minibus”—that is hardly small. The plan is for it to combine the Senate’s Agriculture spending bill ($1,200), Commerce/Justice/Science ($580), and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development ($1,125). That’s $2,900 per U.S. family in spending—”mini” indeed.

Putting three different Senate bills into H.R. 4660—using that bill as the “legislative vehicle” for other bills—makes things hard to track. If there is a single vote on several different bills, that makes it more difficult to pin responsibility on a representative for the decisions he or she has made. But that’s how Congress works today. And they call a large spending bill, which a family would consider very carefully, a “mini” spending bill.

Here’s where opinion stands on the three bills planned for combination into the minibus. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki articles on the bills.

Read the Bill, Commerce-Justice-Science Edition

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

A month ago, you became an appropriations expert when you took inspiration from our post, “Read the (Appropriations) Bill!“, and you scoured H.R. 4487, the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2015.

Now it’s time to do it again, with H.R. 4660, the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015. The bill was introduced last week, and it proposes spending of about $585 per U.S. family.

Where does the money go?

Click on “Read the Bill” in the “Learn More” box on the page for H.R. 4660. And start reading!

There’s $473,000,000 for the International Trade Administration.

The bill would spend $103,500,000 on the Bureau of Industry and Security.

$210,500,000 goes to the Economic Development Administration, plus another $37,000,000 for salaries and expenses.

The Minority Business Development Agency gets $30,000,000.

There’s $99,000,000 for economic and statistical analysis programs. (Apparently, they didn’t want it to be a clean $100,000,000.)

Basic spending on the Bureau of the Census is $248,000,000. But the census programs run another $858,500,000. That’s a bit over a billion dollars.

The list of spending goes on. And it goes on. And on. Until it reaches about $61 billion dollars. That’s $585 per U.S. family.

Take a look for yourself and see what spending you like and what spending you don’t like. Then, all you have to do is let your representatives in Congress know and watch the bill change in response! If only democracy worked that well…

Here’s the current vote on H.R. 4660. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

Where’s the Senate Budget?

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

According to the standard schedule for annual federal budgeting, we’d have a budget resolution for fiscal 2015 by now. It would set out what Congress expects government revenues and outlays to be for the fiscal year that starts on October 1st.

That doesn’t appear to be happening.

The House has moved a budget resolution. That’s H. Con. Res. 96, which calls for spending of about $27,500 per U.S. family.

But there’s no Senate Budget Resolution in sight.

The reason why appears to be that Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, doesn’t believe that a new budget is due.

When the House passed it’s budget earlier this month, she issued a press release lamenting the House’s spending priorities and mentioning the “two-year budget that set spending levels for next year.”

She’s talking about the Bipartisan Budget Act (Public Law 113-67), which became law late last year. Senator Murray believes that bill took care of fiscal 2015 budgeting.

As we reported at the time, the bill was a little bit of a budget deal and a little bit of a spending deal. You can read over the text of that bill, and you’ll find language that makes provision for the failure of Congress to produce a 2015 budget, but you won’t find a 2015 budget there.

When Senator Murray took over the Senate Budget Committee, she produced a budget for the first time in a long time. It was a positive step after her predecessor had dodged his responsibility to budget various ways. Now she seems to be walking down the same path, declining to produce a simple, straightforward budget.

She may have a serious argument, that existing law provides budgetary levels for fiscal 2015 already. But when it comes to making the Senate’s budgeting priorities available to the public, that argument is a failure. The Senate hasn’t produce a fiscal 2015 budget, and it should.

Read the (Appropriations) Bill!

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Like crocuses poking through the snow signaling the coming of spring, the first appropriations bills for fiscal year 2015 have been introduced.

H.R. 4486 is the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015. It would spend about $1,500 per U.S. family.

And H.R. 4487 is the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2015. It’s modest cost: about $34 per family.

If you’re a budding government overseer (budding like a crocus poking through the snow), the legislative branch bill offers you a little opportunity to practice your trade. You see, it’s a relatively short bill. (Short relative to other spending bills, that is.) You can read through it and have some idea of where the money goes.

Go to the page for H.R. 4487, and in the “Learn More” box, click on “Read the bill.” You can scroll through whichever bill version you like.

See how much money goes to House leadership offices, members’ representational allowances (what they spend representing you in Congress), committee employees, standing committees, and so on.

Keep reading! There’s the money for the Capitol Police, Congressional Budget Office, the Architect of the Capitol and Capitol Visitor Center. The Library of Congress runs the Copyright Office and the Congressional Research Service. There they are.

There’s more. The bill would create a “Center for Audit Excellence” in the Government Accountability Office. Think it’s a good idea? A boondoggle?

How about sending $3,420,000 to the Open World Leadership Center Trust Fund for financing activities of the Open World Leadership Center? Good idea or bad?

You can also read the committee’s report on the bill. In the “Learn More” box, click on “Read an Analysis of the Bill.”

It has a nice summary of the bill in comparison to FY 2014 spending and the president’s FY 2015 spending request. It looks like this:

The new bill spends more in some places and less in others. What do you think of the differences?

If you care enough to weigh in with your representatives and senators, you can pick an item and tell them what you think about it. Then follow along to see whether they do anything consistent with your wishes. That’s not easy, but it’s kind of your job as an American citizen, so give it a try. We’ll keep trying to make this information easier to access. You can access it right now by reading the appropriations bill!

Senate Passes Data Act

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

A major effort to improve government transparency took a step forward this past week with Senate passage of S. 994, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013. The House is likely to pass the bill when Congress returns at the end of April, and President Obama should sign the bill into law.

The DATA Act will require the federal government to standardize and publish all executive branch spending information. This will enable sites like ours—and many other resources—to produce better reports on how the government spends taxpayer money. Take a look at the handy video from the Data Transparency Coalition to learn more.

Online publication of federal spending information would include virtually all forms of government spending. Information would be made available in forms that are both easily searchable and downloadable. The bill requires agencies to provide data in a uniform manner. And agency compliance with the law’s mandates would be audited.

The DATA Act should facilitate increased public oversight of the federal government, flushing out waste, fraud, and abuse, and improving the effectiveness and efficiency of federal spending programs. We plan to use the data once it’s available to provide you better information about goings-on in government.

We wrote about our support for the DATA Act in the last Congress and encouraged you to help push for it in the Senate.

Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced S. 994, joined by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH). The House version, H.R. 2061, is also a bipartisan bill, introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD).

Don’t expect instant results. The federal government is a big organization and it will take a couple of years of hard work to turn around its processes and make them more transparent. But the course set by the DATA Act is a good one.

Here’s the current vote on the DATA Act. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

The Ryan Budget, Sliced and Diced

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Last week, the House Budget Committee chaired by former vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) produced a proposed fiscal year 2015 budget. It goes to the House floor this coming week.

Over years, the administration, House, and Senate have developed customs around budgeting that make their work quite difficult for ordinary people to understand. But at least we can get a look at the numbers.

Below are two different perspectives on the budget. The first chart below is the classic layout of anticipated budget numbers from fiscal year 2015 to 2024. Revenue is money coming in, of course. Budget authority is legal authority to spend, while outlays refers to actual dollars being expended. On-budget deficits are only part of the deficit picture. And there are two ways of calculating debt that mean different things to budgeteers.

Take a look at the numbers and where they head over time.

H. Con. Res. 96 – Recommended Levels and Amounts
Year Revenues Budget Authority Outlays Deficits (on-budget) Debt Subject to Limit Debt Held by the Public
2015 $2,533,841,000,000. $2,842,226,000,000. $2,920,026,000,000. -$386,186,000,000. $18,304,357,000,000. $13,213,000,000,000.
2016 $2,676,038,000,000. $2,858,059,000,000. $2,889,484,000,000. -$213,446,000,000. $18,627,533,000,000. $13,419,000,000,000.
2017 $2,789,423,000,000. $2,957,321,000,000. $2,949,261,000,000. -$159,838,000,000. $19,172,590,000,000. $13,800,000,000,000.
2018 $2,890,308,000,000. $3,059,410,000,000. $3,034,773,000,000. -$144,466,000,000. $19,411,553,000,000. $13,860,000,000,000.
2019 $3,014,685,000,000. $3,210,987,000,000. $3,185,472,000,000. -$170,787,000,000. $19,773,917,000,000. $14,080,000,000,000.
2020 $3,148,637,000,000. $3,360,435,000,000. $3,320,927,000,000. -$172,290,000,000. $20,227,349,000,000. $14,427,000,000,000.
2021 $3,294,650,000,000. $3,460,524,000,000. $3,433,392,000,000. -$138,741,000,000. $20,449,374,000,000. $14,579,000,000,000.
2022 $3,456,346,000,000. $3,587,380,000,000. $3,577,963,000,000. -$121,617,000,000. $20,822,448,000,000. $14,940,000,000,000.
2023 $3,626,518,000,000. $3,660,151,000,000. $3,632,642,000,000. -$6,124,000,000. $20,981,807,000,000. $15,080,000,000,000.
2024 $3,807,452,000,000. $3,706,695,000,000. $3,676,374,000,000. $131,078,000,000. $21,089,365,000,000. $15,176,000,000,000.

Another perspective on the budget is available by looking at the “functional categories” of spending. (more…)

It’s the Obscure Bills that Make the Difference

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

A couple of bills received cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office last week. (Well, actually, their cost estimates from last year were finally posted.) The estimates don’t matter much—their costs are negligible—but the fact of getting a CBO score means that they’re serious bills, which may move through Congress in the near future. So let’s take a look at H.R. 1871, the Baseline Reform Act of 2013, and H.R. 1874, the Pro-Growth Budgeting Act of 2013. These obscure bills may make a lot of difference.

The Baseline Reform Act would change how “baseline budgeting” is conducted.

In service to Congress and the executive branch, CBO and the Office of Management and Budget prepare projections of federal spending and revenues. When they review the bills in Congress, current law requires them to assume that spending will increase with inflation. This is called a “rising baseline” because the path of spending in many programs is assumed to rise. The CBO and OMB reports reflect how spending will differ from the baseline, not how they will differ from actual spending in the past.

The “rising baseline” has some unusual effects. It makes increases in spending appear smaller because they are nearer to the rising baseline than current spending. It makes reductions in growth appear as though they are cuts. And it makes actual cuts appear quite a bit larger when these agencies publish their reports. We use them, Congress uses them, and lots of media use these reports in public debates. According to the House Budget Committee, the rising baseline assumes approximately $1.2 trillion more spending over ten years.

H.R. 1871 removes the inflationary assumption from these reports, requiring that the baseline assume neither an increase nor a decrease for discretionary spending programs. CBO and OMB spending would be estimated by comparing it to spending in previous years rather than that rising baseline.

H.R. 1874, the Pro-Growth Budgeting Act of 2013, tinkers with CBO reporting another way. The bill requires CBO to produce a “supplemental macroeconomic analysis” for major legislation. The analysis would describe the likely impact of major bills on key economic variables such as business investment, the capital stock, employment, labor supply, and real Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The analysis would look at both the short-term and long-term economic impacts of bills—going out four decades—and it would include estimates of revenue increases or decreases resulting from changes in real GDP.

Sometimes, for example, a tax cut may spur economic growth that ultimately increases tax revenues. Or a tax increase may retard economic growth, causing revenues to fall. The new analyses would include this information.

The House Budget Committee says that CBO would use “a wide variety of economic models as well as the broad spectrum of empirical economic research and academic scholarship” to produce its reports “in order to reflect the full range of possible economic outcomes resulting from a bill.”

The bill is not non-controversial. Democrats led by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD) wrote in the bill’s committee report that this dynamic scoring methodology is “favored by Republicans because its subjective nature lends itself to the make-believe theory that tax breaks for the wealthy pay for themselves due to trickle-down economics.” The bill excludes “spending on investments” because bills reported by the Appropriations Committee “contain investments that foster economic growth.”

The small, obscure changes to government policy in these bills could have large effects on debates about spending for years to come. As often as not, it’s the obscure bills that make the difference.

And, as always, the right answer is what you think. Below are the current votes on H.R. 1871 and H.R. 1874. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki articles about the bills.

Lowering the Debt the National Debt Through Immigration

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

The SKILLS Visa Act (H.R. 2131) seems hugely expensive—over $2,300 per U.S. family! But there’s more to the story. The bill would reduce the national debt by about $2,200 per U.S. family. Paying down debt is good by most people’s reckoning.

So what’s going on here?

The cost estimates here on WashingtonWatch.com treat revenue as a “cost.” Revenues take money from taxpayers, after all. So to taxpayers that’s a cost. Spending is also a cost, because it expends money that we “all” own.

The majority of “costs” in this immigration reform bill are revenues collected from new immigrants—their payroll and income taxes. Not much of the costs are from spending. So what the bill does is lower the national debt with the economic contribution of new workers.

The majority of our cost estimates come from studies that can be read at the link that says “Read an analysis of this bill” in the “Learn More” box. It’s a good idea to take a look if you want to know more about the costs or savings from a bill.

Interesting notion: Immigration reform can lower the national debt.

Here’s the current vote on H.R. 2131, the SKILLS Visa Act. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

That’s an interesting.