Congress can show taxpayers they're finally a priority with its rescission package

Congress can show taxpayers they're finally a priority with its rescission package
© Greg Nash

Get ready — Congress is going to set another record this year. For the very first time, federal spending will top $4.1 trillion. That amount may not be a mind-boggling sum in Washington, but lawmakers should be worried about what it means outside the beltway. $4.1 trillion is the equivalent of $33,000 per household — a massive tab for taxpayers. Lawmakers must take control of spending.

In a rare but short-lived moment of encouraging news, the House passed President TrumpDonald John TrumpLincoln Project ad dubs Jared Kushner the 'Secretary of Failure' Pence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Twitter bans Trump campaign until it deletes tweet with COVID-19 misinformation MORE’s proposed rescission package earlier this month, only to have the Senate vote it down. This modest package would have cut $15 billion, a small but good — and necessary — first step. 

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Partisan attacks dogged the proposal, despite it being a no-brainer in an era of ever-increasing spending and debt. One of the biggest myths about the package is that it would have cut essential funding for programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

 

In reality, this rescissions package did not cut current programs and services. It would have cut old budget authority that has expired and cannot be spent, funds that have laid untouched for years, and funds that are either unnecessary or duplicative.

In the case of CHIP, the package would have cut — or rescinded — the budget authority from past budgets which has long since expired so it cannot be spent. Cutting this old funding through rescission means it can’t be re-appropriated later for some other purpose. The rescissions also included funding no longer needed in the Child Enrollment Contingency Fund because enrollment in the program isn’t expanding. CHIP programs weren’t affected in either instance.

Other common-sense rescissions in the proposal included expired funds for programs expanded under the Obama stimulus; unspent funds in the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, which has been inactive since 2011; and funding for response to an animal disease outbreak that has since been resolved.

Some argued that rescission isn’t a real way to solve our spending problems. It’s just a distraction, something Congress shouldn’t waste precious time on since it only cuts $15 billion.

But federal spending has continued to increase substantially under the leadership of both parties. This is not a problem that can be fixed overnight, and, to be sure, the package was not a silver bullet. It was, however, a modest first step – and, more importantly, a test of whether Congress is truly willing work to restore fiscal sanity in Washington. Passing the President’s rescission package would have been a constructive down payment on broader and long-overdue spending reform.

It would have also set the right tone for the FY 2019 budget that appropriators are currently crafting.

Sadly, Washington doesn’t have much appetite for cutting spending. Lawmakers in both parties are kicking the can for future Congresses to deal with the problem. Just look at the $1.3 billion omnibus spending bill that passed with bipartisan support.

The problem is, federal spending is already out of control! Congress shouldn’t wait for a crisis to act. As the recent Trustees report for Social Security and Medicare noted, the financial condition of both programs has significantly worsened.

Now — not in the next Congress — was the time for Washington to show American taxpayers that they were also a priority.

In one last floundering attempt to criticize the rescission package, critics argued that it would hardly cut any actual spending.

While these were simply cuts to old funds that even Washington couldn’t figure out how to spend, the fact is that Congress often uses these as slush funds it can cancel on its own and then repurpose for even higher spending elsewhere. Passing this rescission package would not have cut much in terms of today’s operational spending, but would have prevented spending from growing even larger next year and beyond.

Taxpayers needed more than a promise Congress will prioritize their future. They needed Congress to stop overspending now — and they still do. If Congress has the chance to bring this bill back in any form, it should take it.

Congress let taxpayers down with their inability to take even this modest step. It will have to double down to make taxpayers a top priority in the future.

Alison Acosta Winters is a senior policy fellow, and Mary Kate Hopkins is a policy manager, at Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit group aimed at promoting limited government.