Tag: Senate Appropriations Committee

Make-Believe Defense Cuts

Earlier this week, the House Armed Services Committee Republican staff released a video using the anniversary of September 11 to argue for higher military spending while pretending that lately we have cut the defense budget. Chris Preble and I rebutted these outlandish claims, and Evan Banks made our comments into a cool video:

 

Hawks like HASC Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA)—who thinks that “power in benevolent hands is a virtue, not a vice,”—pretend that we are about to slash military spending thanks to the Budget Control Act, the deficit deal legislated early last month. Reporters abet them by repeating the White House PR myth that the bill’s security budget cap will cut Pentagon spending by $350 billion over ten years, and writing that the sequestration provision will probably cut another $500 billion. But as I explained here, the BCA will likely produce either a miniscule defense cut in the near term or no cuts at all. That is because I consider a “cut” to mean spending less than we do now, not less than plans say, because agencies other than defense can absorb the cuts required by the security cap, and because the bill encourages lawmakers to move capped base defense funds into the uncapped war bill.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s proposed funding levels (302b allocations in budget speak) released earlier this week bear out those concerns. Because they come after the BCA, the Senate spending levels are likely to guide those set by the House. Compared to 2011, the committee would cut just under $3 billion from the base defense budget, which is less than one percent. That cut comes entirely from the military construction and family housing account, which was recently bloated by the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. The senators get another chunk of the $4.5 billion in security spending cuts required by the BCA from State, which would lose $3.5 billion, and Homeland Security, which loses a half billion. The National Nuclear Security Administration and the Veterans Administration get minor increases. For more on these allocations, see Stimson’s The Will and the Wallet blog, especially Matthew Leatherman and Russell Rumbaugh’s recent posts.

So that’s a minor defense cut, right? Maybe not. The Senate appropriators seem to have slipped a larger amount of base defense spending into the war bill (Overseas Contingency Operations funding). The committee’s markup press release brags that it fully funded the president’s war request of $117.8 billion, but then claims that they cut $6.6 billion from that request by trimming funding for U.S. and native forces in Afghanistan. What that most likely means is that the committee, probably in league with the Pentagon, cut the war bill by that amount and shifted the same amount over from the base, keeping the war bill flat and maintaining the fiction of a minor base defense cut. We won’t know for sure until the appropriations bills are published.

The longer term prospects for the BCA cutting defense spending are a story for another time. For now, suffice it to say that the prospects of the bill’s current spending limits staying in place for ten years are slim. Future Congresses easily free themselves from legislative bonds set by prior ones, and democracies with two-to-six-year election cycles can’t stick to ten-year plans.

Bingaman Gets Paid to Flout Disclosure Rules

Judging by his earmark disclosures, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) seems to have said “To hell with you!” to the Senate Appropriations Committee and its earmarking rules. But the committee is doling out money to him anyway. It seems rules were made to be broken.

In March, the committee issued a press release reiterating its rules about earmarks—funding requests for special projects that go into Congress’ annual spending bills. Among other things, the rules say:

The Appropriations Committee will consider no request for spending on congressionally directed items … unless a description of the items proposed—including their purpose, location, the recipient of the funds, and an explanation of why the spending is in the interest of the taxpayers—is made publicly available on the Senator’s office website…

bingaman earmark disclosureTake a look at Senator Bingaman’s earmark requests [ugly PDF image] for the Energy & Water appropriations bill. It’s a day-late, dollar-short disaster! (Bingaman’s disclosures for other approps bills are collected here.)

Take one funding request, identified only as “Central NM 593.”

The location of the project is “Bernalillo, Valencia, and SandovaNM1 [sic] Counties.”

Its purpose and benefit to taxpayers? Just two words: “Water Supply.”

Nowhere does Senator Bingaman say who will receive the money. It’s something taxpayers might like to know, and the Senate Appropriations Committee requires its disclosure.

Based on that justification, Senator Bingaman got a million dollar payout. A million dollars for a two-word justification!

(There’s another that asks for funding in the amount of ‘8.00%’. What does that even mean?! Luckily it wasn’t funded…)

Senator Bingaman’s disclosure for the Energy & Water approps bill is just three pages long. Three pages cover 65 earmark requests, adding up to over half a billion dollars (and eight percent of something). Can a half-billion dollars in spending be justified in under three pages?

This should have received a “Stop—Do Not Pass Go—Do Not Collect $200” from the Senate Appropriations Committee. He obviously flouted their rules, denying the public visibility into his earmark requests as the committee required.

But Senator Bingaman got 14 earmarks in the Energy & Water bill, worth over $16 million. That’s $16 million for three uninformative pages.

This is transparency done wrong.

S. 3335 is a bill to require Congress to produce a database of earmark requests and earmarks. It has been reported to the full Senate by committee.