While federal lawmakers increasingly try to address the nation’s fiscal worries, “taxpayers might still not see the relief they deserve” by the time Congress alternately slashes and adds to FY 2015 spending bills, one budget analyst has warned.
“Although the House is moving the fiscal needle in the right direction, it is difficult to know where that needle will point once final legislation reaches the president’s desk for a signature,” according to Pete Sepp, National Taxpayers Union executive vice president.
Sepp was asked if there is a disconnect between burdened taxpayers seeking relief and the elected officials who claim to be accomplishing that task.
For example, the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations has pledged to crack down on waste and corruption in foreign aid programs, but it gave the green light this week to send the multi-billion-dollar global gravy train down a track only slightly narrower than last year’s.
As part of the committee’s celebration of its perceived fiscal responsibility, it acknowledged that some of the slashed funds were simply shifted into “higher priority” programs.
On June 24 it approved, by voice vote, the $48.3 billion State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations bill. That total – $708 million less than the FY 2014 enacted level – encompasses discretionary spending primarily for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, plus smaller entities such as the U.S. Trade & Development Agency, or USTDA.
“The Senate, as well as any House-Senate conference committee, could easily … unravel this modest progress,” Sepp said.
And then there are the recent comments of likely presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who in promoting her book said she was “dead broke” when Bill Clinton’s term in the White House ended. Even now, after earning more than $100 million since then, they are not “truly” well off, she has insisted.
Sepp suggested that much more remains to be done before Americans will experience true fiscal relief.
“While the House Appropriations Committee took commendable first steps to pare back wasteful spending in the State/Foreign Ops bill, it will be a long journey before taxpayers can say that federal diplomacy and aid policies have reached a fiscally responsible destination,” he said.
The committee-approved State/Foreign Ops bill also includes $5 to $9 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funds to “support operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, as well as stabilization and humanitarian efforts in areas of conflict around the globe.”
“The committee continues to ensure that these temporary and extraordinary costs are on a glide-path downward by reducing OCO/GWOT [Global War on Terrorism] appropriations by nine percent below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level,” according to a committee report accompanying the bill.
Sepp noted that Obama submitted a revised OCO funding request two days after committee passage of the State/Foreign Ops bill.
Obama’s request for State OCO funding took a $1.4 billion leap to $7.3 billion. On the other hand, the administration also proposed slashing $20.9 billion from the Department of Defense OCO budget, dropping it from the $79.4 billion “placeholder” amount in the FY 2015 budget to $58.6 billion.
OCO “has been criticized as being part ‘slush fund’ that allows not-urgent expenditures to be paid for without having to abide by spending caps that cover the rest of DoD and State Department budgets,” Sepp said.
According to a recently released White House “fact sheet,” the administration “continues to support a cumulative $450 billion cap on government-wide OCO funding from FY 2013 to FY 2021.”
It encouraged Congress “to act with similar fiscal discipline in OCO appropriations.”
The crux of the government’s fiscal problem lies not simply in the vastness of the administration’s proposed $3.9 trillion federal budget, but in the lack of adequate oversight of how each governmental entity spends those funds, particularly in foreign assistance programs, Sepp said.
“As a recent NTU letter of support for transparency legislation sponsored by Sen. Rubio and Congressman Poe noted, there are some 60 offices spread across 22 agencies administering foreign aid,” Sepp said. “The Obama administration’s foreign aid dashboard, which is a solid start toward getting a handle on how these programs are working, still only encompasses eight of those 22 agencies.
“Meanwhile, just two months ago the Government Accountability Office noted that there is ‘little clarity’ in USAID reporting. It is vital that the reforms Sen. Rubio and Congressman Poe proposed get implemented,” Sepp said.
Although the House Appropriations Committee report suggested the elimination of a handful of programs and sought to freeze spending in others, the 117-page document largely failed to challenge the status quo on government spending.
Rather than raising questions about whether the U.S. should, for instance, get involved in various conflicts or pay foreign governments to improve institutionally, the report suggests, at best, that USAID and other agencies come up with more effective means of measuring their successes or failures.
The report did not criticize, for example, spending U.S. taxpayer funds to help modernize Mexico.
As WND recently reported, USTDA spent $100,000 to create a “Resource Guide for U.S. Industry on Priority Infrastructure Projects.”
The guide, which the agency presented at a taxpayer-funded event in Mexico City, serves as corporate welfare roadmap for U.S. industry while offering instruction to the government of Mexico on how to tap into the U.S. Treasury.
On the contrary, the committee lauded such efforts in general, recognizing the “need for greater economic engagement between the United States and Mexico.”
Therefore, it urged the Department of State “to explore opportunities in this area, including engagement with business leaders in both countries, in order to enhance dialogue and cooperative efforts.”
The goal of these efforts, according to the report, is “to improve economic growth, increase global market competitiveness, improve United States-Mexico trade and investment, create jobs, and raise living standards for citizens of both countries, within a framework that fully respects and supports national sovereignty and interests.”
Sepp, commenting on foreign assistance in general, said that “both Congress and the White House need to confront serious issues not only in the level of State Department and foreign aid spending, but also in the oversight of the funds.”
“Like other parts of the federal budget, putting off tough decisions will only worsen the problem.”