Stretching Sandy to the Limits

Blog Articles · Jan 13, 2013 · Budget and Spending

This week, the House will consider the remainder of the Hurricane Sandy relief legislation. This evening, the Rules Committee, which is essentially controlled by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), will decide which amendments will be allowed on the $50 billion Sandy package. Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) will offer the initial $17 billion package, which will likely be amended Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) to add $33.67 billion.

Reckless spending by any other name would still be as irresponsible. Calling $50 billion, much of which won't be spent for years, "emergency" spending doesn't make it so. It's still reckless and irresponsible.

The Sandy aid request originally submitted by President Obama and the subsequent Senate passed measure were indeed bloated and chock full of spending totally unrelated to Sandy. This spending certainly did not merit to be called "disaster" or "emergency" spending. Politico, surprisingly, illustrates the overreach of big spenders in Congress:

That's a harder sell in the case of community development funds. Frelinghuysen can seem torn between trying to look frugal while still hitting the Senate spending target to speed passage there.
For Christie, Bloomberg and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, this $16 billion pot of money promises them the greatest flexibility to solve problems on the ground.
But the same $16 billion commitment requires a leap of faith that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan - the man charged by Obama with leading the recovery effort - will ensure fairness and efficiency. For many Republicans, that's a leap too far.
Compounding the problem is the fact that HUD's first estimate of the "unmet needs" was only about $5.2 billion, according to officials in Congress. The White House disputed that number Sunday, telling POLITICO that the "vast majority" of the request can justified as meeting such needs. But that still suggests a total less than the $16 billion to be voted on by the House.

Heritage's Patrick Knudsen explains why it has been so easy for lawmakers to pack so much excessive spending into the Sandy legislation:

Both President Obama and the Senate have exploited those designations-huge loopholes built into the Budget Control Act (BCA), which has become Congress's proxy budget-to exceed the BCA's spending limits by any amount they desire. The amendments give House Members a chance to start the new Congress with a small but noteworthy act of genuine fiscal discipline.

Unfortunately, he adds:

Somewhat less encouraging: House Members also will consider an amendment to Chairman Rogers's bill that would tack on $33 billion of pork-laden spending, without offsets.

Knudsen explains that historically, it has usually been the case that supplemental spending was offset, and even if that were not the case, today's trillion dollar deficits "make it imperative that Congress avoid more debt-financed spending whenever possible. The amendments to the Rogers bill would be an initial gesture in that direction."

The bad news is that Rep. Frelinghuysen's $33 billion amendment would undo the good done by those amendments.

The bottom line is this:

It merely repeats Congress's all-too-typical practice of larding up emergency bills to slide through excess spending items that should be scrutinized in the regular budget process, or dropped altogether...This is the kind of spending that helps unravel coherent budgeting and contributes to chronic, trillion-dollar deficits. It also lures states and localities into greater dependence on federal funds, further undermining the principle of federalism. It does not by any stretch meet the test of "emergency" or "disaster" spending, and should be dropped.