Sessions Outlines Spending Increases And Gimmicks In Appropriations Package

The majority party [contends] that this bill—this minibus—spends $128 billion, which is $1 billion below the $129 billion spent last year—a reduction of less than 1 percent. They are very proud of this… [but] the overall spending compared to last year went up by $10 billion…” 

But it gets worse. This bill also contains a number of Washington accounting tricks to sweep new spending under the rug. It’s full of the typical gimmicks used to shove more spending into a bill that’s already reached its spending limit.” 

WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, spoke on the Senate floor today to explain his opposition to the combined appropriations package (H.R. 2112), citing spending increases and accounting gimmicks. A vote is anticipated on the package tomorrow.

Sessions’ remarks, as prepared, follow:

“Mr. President, I rise today to speak about the effect on the budget of the appropriations bill currently before this body. As Ranking Member on the Budget Committee, I believe it is my responsibility to present straightforward, honest figures about each of the spending bills that come before the Senate.

H.R. 2112, the fiscal year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Act, is the first of several ‘minibus’ bills that apparently will be used to curtail the normal appropriations process. This minibus contains three appropriations bills: Agriculture; Commerce, Justice, Science; and Transportation and Housing.

The Democrat majority contends that their appropriations package will save taxpayers money. But this is just more bogus Washington accounting. We’ve crunched the numbers and discovered that these bills will increase spending by $10 billion over last year. I would like to take a moment to explain.

This is the first appropriations bill the Senate has considered after discretionary spending caps were established as part of the recent debt limit negotiations. The Budget Control Act, as the bill was pretentiously named, had as a goal to bring discretionary spending down from $1,050 billion in FY11 to $1,043 billion in FY12, an alleged actual spending reduction of a paltry $7 billion.

Does this bill adequately move us towards even this minor goal? The majority party says it does. They contend that this bill—this minibus—spends $128 billion, which is $1 billion below the $129 billion spent last year—a reduction of less than 1 percent. They are very proud of this.

But, the Budget Control Act also created a new category of spending above the $1,043 billion, spending for disaster assistance. The debt limit deal provided for an allowance for disaster spending equal to the average of the prior 10 years, which can be accessed simply by providing the proper words in the appropriations bill. The majority party contends that this money should magically not count when you decide how much is spent. Why? It’s a disaster and disasters don’t count, don’t you know?

As amended on the Senate floor two weeks ago, this bill now contains $3.2 billion in new spending above the caps for disaster relief—a further increase of 20 percent. While there are arguments that this $3.2 billion should not be counted as an expenditure, the CBO score—the official score—includes it as an expenditure. No one has challenged them because it appears they are plainly correct to score the $3.2 billion as spending.

Only in Washington can it be asserted that the government can spend $3.2 billion and it not count. The bill sponsors contend that the discretionary spending portion of the bill went down from about $129 billion to $128 billion. CBO says spending went up to $131 billion. The disaster funding represents a 2 percent discretionary increase at time when discretionary spending is supposed to be going down.

Further, the bill sponsors say you should not count the mandatory spending contained in the bill. They insist that mandatory spending is not under their control. Again, this is logic that only exists in Washington. In truth, it is not unusual for the Appropriations Committee to take actions that impact programs, and it can be done here.

For example, food stamps, the largest mandatory program by in this bill by far, is expected to increase by 14 percent this year—$10 billion more this year than last year. It represents a doubling of the food stamp budget over the last three years, and a quadrupling over the last ten years. Like welfare reform, responsible changes to the way the government operates this program will improve outcomes, help more people achieve the goal of financial independence, and put an end to fraud.

Now, when I offered an amendment to save a modest $10 billion over the next 10 years—a reform that would not reduce eligibility but only require recipients meet minimum requirements of the program—the amendment was defeated. Senator Stabenow, the Agriculture Authorizing Committee Chair, rose to explain that we are not to worry because while we’re increasing spending now, at some other time her committee will produce a new bill that will reduce it by $23 billion over 10 years. The effect on the FY12 budget would be that food stamp spending would increase $8 billion, or 10 percent, instead of $10 billion, or 14 percent. This program has doubled since 2008. But we are now learning that even the $23 billion in future savings would not come from food stamps. Only $4 billion of the savings, over ten years, would be found in the food stamp program.

So, here’s the bottom line: when discretionary and mandatory spending are scored on this bill, the overall spending compared to last year went up by $10 billion, or 4 percent. Relative to the amounts Senators were asked to approve for these three bills last year, we are being asked this year to increase spending—not decrease spending.

And if you were to exclude the mandatory spending—just ignore that huge increase—and even say the disaster assistance should be ignored, the so-called reduction is a paltry $1 billion on these three bills combined. This is a mere $1 billion out of our goal to save whopping $7 billion.

It is time to get serious. Denial must end. You can’t borrow your way out of debt. We are spending money we don’t have.

It just cannot be contended that this is serious work towards reducing our deficit. Our deficit in FY11 was just shy of $1,300 billion; a spending cut of $7 billion is a mere pittance in comparison. And this bill doesn’t even put us on a path to that minor goal.

But it gets worse. This bill also contains a number of Washington accounting tricks to sweep new spending under the rug. It’s full of the typical gimmicks used to shove more spending into a bill that’s already reached its spending limit. I remain amazed at the creativity used by the spenders to defeat budget limits. Would they use that creativity to control spending?

I’ve already talked about the new authority granted by the Budget Control Act to designate an item as a ‘disaster,’ outside and above the budget, and to spend the money without a formal vote by the Senate to declare it as a disaster. When this idea of setting aside funds for disaster assistance was floated, it sounded good to me. I thought the funds would be set aside under the budget so that normal disaster spending would be ‘paid for.’ The idea was to arrange the amount of disaster spending and put it in the budget. But, in the shell game that is Washington, that is not what the fine print did. The BCA creates a ‘slush fund’ to spend money above the budget limits, eliminating the 60-vote requirement for emergency designation. There is $3.2 billion in spending under this new authority in this bill. At the rate we are going, the ceiling of $11.3 billion for disaster relief established under the Budget Control Act will be exhausted in no time, and more emergency spending will be needed to further address legitimate disaster needs. But, the spenders can relax. There will be no need for 60 votes to exceed the $11.3 billion level either. That too was eliminated.

In addition, this bill uses another gimmick to rescind discretionary appropriations provided in prior years that, for one reason or another, can no longer be spent for their intended purposes. That is, the bill rescinds budget authority that the CBO estimates will not result in any cash savings over the next 10 years. Rather than letting the appropriations lapse and saving the taxpayer some money, this bill pretends to be responsible and rescinds the money, which is then used to pay for spending that will in fact result in cash expenditures from the Treasury. This one gimmick in this minibus alone results in $135 million dollars in off-the-books spending.

Finally, this bill finds savings in mandatory programs that game the government’s cash flow and score as savings for this bill, but don’t reduce the true cost to taxpayers. These so-called CHiMPs, changes in mandatory program spending, total $8.5 billion in this bill; of that amount, an astonishing 88 percent, or $7.5 billion, results in no net spending reduction over 10 years.

Some of these CHiMPs have been going on year after year. One example is the Crime Victims Fund. Every year, Congress says that the crime victims will get the funds they are due under the law next year. Which, unfortunately for the Crime Victims Fund, has not yet arrived since the annual deferral began in fiscal year 2000. Meanwhile, appropriators get to spend the amount deferred over and over again, enabling ever higher amounts of discretionary spending. It would be like a family delaying a single $500 home repair for ten years and counting it as $5,000 in savings—$500 for every year the repair didn’t take place. In this case, over the past 3 years, the gimmick used in this bill has enabled $14 billion in higher spending. This is one more dishonest accounting trick that should not be allowed. Crime victims’ advocates are rightly furious.

In closing, I am unable to support this bill. It represents everything that is wrong in Washington today. It crams together three bills that should have been considered individually, creating a process that precludes open debate on spending in a time when we need more of such debate rather than less. Further, it does virtually nothing to address the fiscal crisis that threatens this country with economic disaster. It treats the spending caps established earlier this summer as a floor rather than a ceiling, as a limit on savings not a floor, and then uses gimmicks to provide spending over and above the advertised limit. This bill is not a serious response to the explosive growth in federal spending. It falls well short of the commitment we must make to handle taxpayer dollars honestly and responsibly. The American people deserve better than this bill from their elected leaders.

I yield the floor.”