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Fake ‘Emergency’ Spending in Washington Winds Up Costing Us All

Photo by Harold Mendoza / Unsplash

By David Ditch, The Daily Signal | November 09, 2023

It’s bad enough that Congress and the White House are making no serious effort to cut spending these days—something we all wind up paying for, whether we realize it or not. But to keep adding to the deficit? That’s worse.

In recent weeks, the Biden administration has submitted two supplemental spending requests to Congress. The first is $106 billion for “security” items, and the second is $56 billion for “domestic” programs.

That’s a $162 billion wish list of spending increases. The budgetary approach taken by the administration and many members of Congress is, to put it mildly, profoundly irresponsible.

Yes, some aspects of the requests, such as helping Israel in its fight against terrorism, addressing the crisis at the southern border, and the ongoing debate about aid for Ukraine, are important matters for Congress to discuss.

However, by seeking to place all $162 billion of requests in the “emergency” category, the administration hopes to dodge the bipartisan spending limits agreed to this spring. That means the entire amount would be financed through deficit spending.

This would be problematic under normal circumstances. Today it’s downright dangerous.

That’s because America is still suffering the economic consequences of the $7.5 trillion spending spree that Congress went on from 2020 to 2022, using the pandemic as an excuse to throw money at a variety of special interests.

The incredible volume of deficit spending helped drive inflation to multidecade highs, reducing purchasing power by thousands of dollars per household.

In response, the Federal Reserve has dramatically increased interest rates, disrupting financial markets and making home mortgages unaffordable for millions of families. This has also affected the skyrocketing cost of interest payments on the national debt, which could hit $1 trillion over the next year.

That means it’s vital to reserve the “emergency” label for situations of national importance that were unforeseen at the start of the annual spending process. Responding to the barbaric attacks by Hamas on innocent Israelis is an example of a genuine emergency.

In contrast, the administration’s spending requests are loaded with provisions that were well-established at the start of the year, such as the war in Ukraine. But claiming that items such as broadband internet subsidies, communications infrastructure, and child care benefits—however important they may be—warrant “crisis” funding strains credulity to the breaking point.

The reason for such requests is that the administration and its allies are addicted to deficit spending. Thus, they’ll take every opportunity possible to exploit budget loopholes and deliver your hard-earned tax dollars to special interests.

This isn’t how a household budget works. If an unplanned expense such as a car accident or a broken appliance pops up, a responsible family will respond by cutting back on eating out or delaying travel plans.

It’s increasingly clear that Washington is allergic to responsible budgeting. Rather than responding to genuine emergencies by reducing or eliminating spending on corporate welfare schemes and boondoggle projects, too many legislators behave as if all existing programs and bureaucracies are sacred.

Unless something changes, the worst is yet to come. The gross national debt is now $33.6 trillion. Major programs such as Social Security and Medicare face unfunded liabilities of over $75 trillion. That means the national hole is over $800,000 per household.

If Congress can’t break its reliance on deficit spending, the country will face a future of elevated inflation, higher taxes, slower wage growth, and more economic uncertainty.

A step in the right direction would be for Congress to limit “emergency” spending to real emergencies. Our leaders should have the common sense to separate what’s truly urgent, such as supporting Israel, from items that can go through normal appropriations, like broadband subsidies.

Otherwise, we’re all going to wind up paying the price—literally.

David Ditch is a policy analyst specializing in budget and transportation policy in the Grover M. Hermann Center for the Federal Budget at The Heritage Foundation.

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