In May, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) introduced the Unauthorized Spending Accountability (USA) Act (H.R. 2505). This legislation would sunset appropriations for unauthorized “zombie” programs over a three-year period.
Congress consistently neglects a powerful tool at its disposal to exercise oversight of the federal budget and authorize expired spending programs. This results in hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars flowing to programs that are essentially on autopilot every year. In FY2018, unauthorized programs accounted for $340 billion in discretionary spending—over a quarter of the discretionary budget.
The USA Act would incentivize Congress to realize its budgetary authority by gradually eliminating unauthorized appropriations through an automatic sequester over three years. In order to restore full funding, Congress would have to reauthorize desired programs or offset the cuts with reductions in mandatory spending. To help accommodate this change, the bill would establish a commission to recommend a three-year authorization schedule for all discretionary programs and suggest possible mandatory spending offsets.
According to Justin Bogie, Senior Policy Analyst in Fiscal Affairs at The Heritage Foundation:
Congress should not be appropriating funds for purposes that are unauthorized. The authorization process is designed in part as an oversight tool. It is a chance for Members of authorizing committees to closely examine the activities that the federal government is funding, and to make decisions about whether they are worthy purposes. Starting this appropriations cycle, Congress should stop making appropriations to zombie agencies and programs, and should not provide any more funding until they have been reauthorized.
According to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers:
We have a fiscal crisis in America today — too much of the federal government is on autopilot. The USA Act is simple, it ensures that every penny of taxpayer money is subject to the scrutiny of the American people. It means that the people’s representatives are doing their jobs to effectively review, rethink, and possibly eliminate programs that are no longer needed. It means restoring the power of the purse and ending unauthorized spending.
Authorization and appropriation are separate in the “regular order” budget process to ensure that programs are evaluated before receiving taxpayer dollars. This makes it harder for Congress to waste money on ineffective, self-serving, or controversial programs. If Congress continues to ignore or selectively enforce this process, billions of dollars will continue to flow to agencies and programs with little to no oversight.
Heritage Action supports this legislation and encourages members of Congress to support it.