Bringing Accountability to ‘Zombie’ Appropriations, a Key Driver of Federal Waste

A key driver of wasteful spending in Washington is what some call “zombie” appropriations.

This refers to spending on programs that either have never been authorized, or are operating under an expired authorization. According to the Congressional Budget Office, these programs accounted for nearly one-third of all discretionary spending in fiscal year 2016, receiving more than $310 billion.

Under both House and Senate rules, a program that does not have an up-to-date authorization is not supposed to be able to receive an appropriation. Unfortunately, these rules are almost always ignored, and “zombie” programs continue to receive funding.

Some may wonder, why does it matter if zombie programs continue to receive funding?

One of Congress’ core constitutional authorities is to maintain the power of the purse. Authorization legislation, budget resolutions, and appropriations bills (collectively known as regular order) are key components of Congress’ oversight function.

By authorizing agencies and programs on a regular basis, Congress is able to examine the activities that receive taxpayer dollars. This also allows Congress to consider the usefulness of government programs and make sometimes tough decisions about what the nation’s spending priorities should be. With the gross federal debt now approaching $20 trillion, it is clear that Congress has a spending problem.

Lack of oversight has at least in part contributed to this problem. Congress should be working toward reducing wasteful spending and finding ways to put spending and debt on a sustainable path.

Yet at the very least, it should perform its oversight function and fully account for exactly how scarce taxpayer resources are being spent.

This week, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., introduced the Unauthorized Spending Accountability (USA) Act of 2017.

Rodgers’ bill makes a strong push to begin the return to regular order, forcing Congress to do its job and regularly authorize agencies and programs. Under her USA Act, programs would be put on a three-year track to being sunset if they are not reauthorized.

The first year after their expiration, appropriations would be reduced by 10 percent of the total value of their unauthorized spending. In the remaining two years, this cut would deepen to 15 percent.

The Heritage Foundation’s “Blueprint for Balance” calls for a similar penalty to be applied to unauthorized accounts, but would withhold any funding until after reauthorization.

Spending reductions would be enforced by an automatic sequester each year, and the only way for Congress to avoid these reductions for unauthorized activities would be to enact offsetting reductions in mandatory spending.

Enforcement through sequestration gives Congress a strong incentive to either authorize programs or make targeted cuts to other parts of the budget and avoid arbitrary across-the-board cuts.

The USA Act would also create a commission to establish a three-year schedule by which all discretionary programs would be authorized. This commission would also review all mandatory spending programs and identify mandatory offsets that could be used to restore budget authority to unauthorized accounts.

Hopefully, the bill would also bolster Congress’ oversight ability and provide an opportunity to identify programs and activities that could be consolidated or eliminated entirely, saving taxpayers billions of dollars.

Zombie appropriations continue to be a major problem and threaten the nation’s fiscal health. It is going to require backbone and decisive action from Congress to stop this practice and return accountability to the budget process.

This bill is a first step in the right direction. (For more from the author of “Bringing Accountability to ‘Zombie’ Appropriations, a Key Driver of Federal Waste” please click HERE)

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‘Blueprint for Reform’ Gives Desperately Needed Guidance to Washington

The barbaric attack in Nice, the slaughter of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, and Hillary Clinton’s umpteenth legal cakewalk leave many Americans feeling angry and powerless—and understandably so. The social contract seems to have been shredded by the mayhem that envelops us.

But the upcoming election and change of administration offer Americans an opportunity to demand a return to principles that can keep the nation free and strong—if embraced.

These principles—free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense—underlie the dozens of policy recommendations detailed in The Heritage Foundation’s new “Blueprint for Reform: A Comprehensive Policy Agenda.” Released last week, the publication is the latest in a series of “Mandate for Leadership” books that debuted in 1981 to guide the incoming Reagan administration.

Washington desperately needs the guidance, of course.

As noted in “Blueprint for Reform,” excessive spending has nearly doubled the federal debt in recent years, from $9.9 trillion at the close of 2008 to $19.2 trillion in May 2016. There also has been an unparalleled expansion of regulation, with some 20,000 rules issued by the Obama administration and an increase in annual regulatory costs of more than $108 billion (according to the regulatory agencies’ own numbers). The loss of individual freedom is incalculable.

Meanwhile, the $1 trillion that Americans spend each year on means-tested welfare programs isn’t buying much self-sufficiency for the needy among us. And U.S. military capabilities have languished.

In its first six chapters, “Blueprint for Reform” summarizes the state of the economy; taxes; entitlements; regulation; energy and natural resources; and foreign policy and defense. The second half features analyses by Heritage experts of the missions, operations, and budgets of 15 Cabinet departments and eight other agencies, along with a detailed policy agenda “to allow Americans to build for themselves a stronger economy, a stronger society, and a stronger defense.”

On taxes, for example, the plan reveals that the federal government expects to collect $42.1 trillion in revenues between 2017 and 2026, and spend $51.4 trillion. Doing so will increase the total gross debt from $19.2 trillion in May 2016 to an estimated $29.1 trillion by September 2026.

As noted by Heritage Foundation experts, a more rational tax system would feature a low, flat rate applied on a base of wages, salaries, and limited number of other forms of income. And the rate would be set to collect no more revenue than is necessary to fund government’s core constitutional functions.

Exercising Power of the Purse

“Blueprint for Reform” also prescribes a variety of regulatory reforms to curtail the vast administrative state that has eroded the fundamental character of America. Chief among them is returning accountability to Congress by requiring lawmakers to approve all major regulations before they are allowed to take effect.

The plan calls on Congress to exercise the power of the purse by withholding appropriations from ruinous regulations such as the Obama administration’s so-called Clean Power Plan, among others.

Indeed, President Barack Obama’s crackdown on coal and petroleum has been particularly punishing by prohibiting access to natural resource exploration, subsidizing politically preferred energy sources, and implementing burdensome regulations that distort markets and provide little environmental benefit.

“Blueprint for Reform” recommends greater access to resource development and trade in energy resources, the elimination of subsidies, favoritism, and shifting more regulatory authority to the states. As noted by Heritage analysts:

Freely importing and exporting energy and energy technologies would yield tremendous economic benefits, providing Americans with more opportunities to sell products to more customers and to buy cheaper goods and services from abroad. Free trade in energy also bolsters national security by increasing supply diversity and providing choices for allies; it will have beneficial geopolitical implications for every region of the world.

Reducing Regulations and Entitlements

The hundreds of regulations imposed on the financial sector under the Dodd-Frank Act likewise have increased costs, reduced access to credit, and inhibited economic growth. Advocates evidently fail to grasp that banks and other financial institutions actually promote prosperity by allocating capital.

But as Heritage experts point out, Dodd-Frank actually has eroded financial stability by inciting industry concentration, which harms investors and consumers. To reverse this trend, “Blueprint for Reform” recommends repeal of Dodd-Frank and a return to regulation focused on deterring and punishing fraud and fostering reasonable, scaled disclosure of material information.

Major reforms also are necessary to rationalize America’s entitlement programs, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare, which accounted for more than half of all tax revenues in 2015.

“Blueprint for Reform” eliminates any excuse for hand-wringing among members of Congress by providing specific reforms, such as:

Raising the Social Security and Medicare retirement ages to account for increased life expectancies and work capacities.

Transitioning to a flat, anti-poverty benefit for Social Security and Disability Insurance.

Reducing the payroll tax to allow individuals to save more for retirement and disability.

Defending the Nation

And then there is defense. It is all too apparent that America is unprepared and ill-equipped to confront Russian adventurism in Eastern Europe, Chinese expansion in the South China Sea, and Islamist terrorists streaming across swaths of Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.

“Blueprint for Reform” recommends reprioritizing defense spending while maintaining the aggregate spending levels for discretionary programs under the Budget Control Act. Resources should be shifted to restoring capacity, particularly of U.S. ground forces; accelerating readiness; and updating nuclear weapons and missile defense systems, among other changes.

Improving the efficiency of the Defense Department also should be a priority, according to Heritage experts, including cutting excessive bureaucracy and modernizing acquisition system.

A great many other policy corrections fill the 152-page “Blueprint for Reform” that should be required reading for every policymaker and elected official—in Washington and beyond. It also offers citizens an inside look at the inner workings of the executive branch and experts’ guidance on making America once again the land of the free and the home of the brave. (For more from the author of “‘Blueprint for Reform’ Gives Desperately Needed Guidance to Washington” please click HERE)

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How Washington Politicians Wasted Billions Trying to ‘Invest in Our Future’

The federal government has wasted billions on energy projects promising to usher in a new energy future.

Why? Because revolutions don’t come from the government—they come from the people, and the same holds true for energy.

Despite many attempts to force it, the next energy revolution won’t come from Washington. All Washington can do is play favorites when picking energy options (think Solyndra).

It does this through providing grants, loans, loan guarantees, mandates (like the use of biofuels), and tax subsidies to specific energy technologies—to only name of a few.

Another way in which the government intervenes in the energy market is the annual budget of the Department of Energy. Programs within the Department of Energy supposedly recognize that there’s great potential for wind, solar, fusion, geothermal, biofuels, carbon capturing technology for coal, and much more. These energy sources and technologies themselves may very well be worthy of investment, but that’s not the point. The problem is the government meddling in what is clearly not its role.

The mantra from proponents of government spending on energy is generally the same. To borrow from President Barack Obama, “Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future.”

Half of that statement is correct. Taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize the past. Nor should they “invest” (read: subsidize) in the future. In fact, that’s why the market has investors: to take chances, using their own money, on promising new endeavors. From basic research to full-scale commercialization for any energy technology, every step of the way should be driven by the private sector.

Free enterprise will spur the next energy revolution, just as it has the latest oil and gas revolution that’s lowering the cost of living for Americans. Competition will provide incremental improvements in energy, for conventional natural resources and for renewable technologies.

As energy prices rise and fall, markets respond accordingly. Higher prices at the pump, for instance, incentivize companies to extract more oil and invest in technologies to produce the oil more cheaply and efficiently. Higher prices encourage exploration into alternative power sources for vehicles, whether it is biofuels, batteries, natural gas, or something entirely different.

Markets shift to more efficient and cost-competitive technologies when they make economic sense and meet consumer preferences. In the 1800s, wood was the dominant energy source for families because it was abundant and convenient. Over time, coal replaced wood because it provided more heat per pound and was easier to store and to transport.

Furthermore, the evolution of rail power from steam to diesel occurred even faster because the transition significantly reduced costs and increased productivity. Though legislation encouraged the use of diesel locomotives on a small scale, the dramatic shift mostly happened because of market forces. The cost-effectiveness and increased productivity of diesel-powered trains largely eradicated the use of steam locomotives in just over two decades.

The reality is that Washington isn’t needed to drive energy innovation, which is a difficult pill to swallow for some politicians and special interests. Because those are the folks who want to keep the money flowing to their preferred energy sources because they stand to benefit.

It’s more difficult for politicians to take credit for the successes guided by the invisible hand. But the free market will actually trigger successful investments and reward disruptive technologies, providing more choice and better options for families.

On the surface, their reasons for government funding energy projects may sound appealing to the public. For years, policymakers stressed the need to develop alternative energy sources to reduce dependence on foreign energy sources. Lately, the justification for Department of Energy spending is that America needs to combat global warming, reduce greenhouse gas emission, and be a leader in green tech.

But intentions and results are two very different things. Decades of the federal government trying to commercialize specific energy technologies have left Americans with nothing more than empty promises and squandered money.

Instead of continuing to fund energy programs almost without hesitation, policymakers should trust that the market will determine the true value of potentially innovative technologies. We know what works and what doesn’t. It’s time for Congress to stop dumping money into failed programs and expecting different results. Instead, they should live by this mantra:

A penny saved is a penny earned and a taxpayer dollar spent on energy is a taxpayer dollar wasted.

(For more from the author of “How Washington Politicians Wasted Billions Trying to ‘Invest in Our Future'” please click HERE)

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Washington State May Abolish Rule Forcing Businesses to Let Men Into Women’s Bathrooms

A Republican-led Senate committee narrowly passed a bill that would repeal Washington State’s new law requiring public buildings and most businesses to let people with gender dysphoria use the restroom, locker room, and other facilities of their choice.

On Wednesday, the Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee heard from 300 people on both sides of the issue. While transgender activists said the law prevents discrimination, parents and others said they were concerned about the potential of sexual assaults. Some noted that the Human Rights Commission, which approved the so-called “non-discrimination” law, is not a legislative body.

One business owner, Thrive Community Fitness’s Paul MacLurg, told legislators that “now I have no good choices” when it comes to protecting women from men who would harass them. He has assigned a private restroom and locker room for transgender people.

Bill sponsor Senator Doug Ericksen described the measure as a “compromise” effort that would allow local jurisdictions to handle the issue on a case-by-case basis. “The state shouldn’t have a mandate on men using the women’s locker room,” he said.

Ramona Calquhoun told The Associated Press that, in addition to opening possibilities for sexual predators, “[e]ven mentioning anything puts you in a legally bad position to get sued.” (Read more from “Washington State May Abolish Rule Forcing Businesses to Let Men Into Women’s Bathrooms” HERE)

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Uncle Sam’s $8 Trillion Annual Debt Churn: Why Washington Is Pertrified Of Honest Interest Rates

Photo Credit: NewscomI know that headline sounds completely outrageous. But it is actually true. The U.S. government is borrowing about 8 trillion dollars a year, and you are about to see the hard numbers that prove this. When discussing the national debt, most people tend to only focus on the amount that it increases each 12 months. And as I wrote about recently, the U.S. national debt has increased by more than a trillion dollars in fiscal year 2014.

But that does not count the huge amounts of U.S. Treasury securities that the federal government must redeem each year. When these debt instruments hit their maturity date, the U.S. government must pay them off. This is done by borrowing more money to pay off the previous debts. In fiscal year 2013, redemptions of U.S. Treasury securities totaled $7,546,726,000,000 and new debt totaling $8,323,949,000,000 was issued. The final numbers for fiscal year 2014 are likely to be significantly higher than that.

So why does so much government debt come due each year?

Well, in recent years government officials figured out that they could save a lot of money on interest payments by borrowing over shorter time frames. For example, it costs the government far more to borrow money for 10 years than it does for 1 year. So a strategy was hatched to borrow money for very short periods of time and to keep “rolling it over” again and again and again.

This strategy has indeed saved the federal government hundreds of billions of dollars in interest payments, but it has also created a situation where the federal government must borrow about 8 trillion dollars a year just to keep up with the game.

Read more from this story HERE.

Open for Business: Legal Marijuana Sales Underway in Washington

Photo Credit: APWashington state’s marijuana industry is now open for business.

Twenty months after voters legalized recreational marijuana, the first pot stores are licensed and selling the drug. And business was already booming.

Amber McGowan, a manager at Cannabis City in Seattle, said she’s expecting to sell all 10 pounds in the store this first historic day.

“There’s definitely a market out there that would rather go the safe route, because a lot of people don’t like going to their dealer,” McGowan said. “The dealer is usually pretty shady.”

Washington state follows Colorado, which was the first to open pot retail stores on Jan. 1. Voters in both states legalized possession of up to an once of marijuana for recreational use in November 2012. Colorado was able to approve sales earlier because it licensed only medical marijuana shops that were already tightly regulated. Washington’s medical marijuana industry operates with very little government oversight.

Read more from this story HERE.

Washington Assisted Suicide Law Leads to Over 100 Deaths in 2013

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.comA government report shows that 173 people asked for, and received, medication doses high enough to induce death in 2013. It estimated that 119 people died as a result of those medications, though 159 total patients died.

In 2008, voters in Washington supported the patient-assisted suicide law, which went into effect in 2009. The law allows terminally ill patients who are expected to die six months or sooner after the diagnosis to be prescribed medication to end their lives. Two witnesses, including a non-relative, must be present when the medication is used.

According to Margaret Dore of Choice is an Illusion, a group opposed to “death with dignity” laws, “the new report is important for what it doesn’t say.”

“When Washington’s law was passed, it was sold as a completely voluntary act in which ‘only’ the patient would be allowed to take the lethal dose,” Dore told LifeSiteNews. “The act doesn’t actually say that, but that’s how it was sold.”

The government’s report reveals that in only two percent of cases was the prescribing physician present as the patient took the deadly drugs. Dore says because of this there’s a grave risk of abuse by family members.

Read more from this story HERE.

Washington Becomes First State to Lose its Waiver from No Child Left Behind

Photo Credit: Rachel La Corte / AP

Photo Credit: Rachel La Corte / AP

Washington state lost its waiver from implementing certain parts of the No Child Left Behind education law, an action that could lead to layoffs and program cuts, Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement Thursday.

In a letter to the state superintendent, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that he would not renew the waiver because the state had failed to implement promised changes to how it evaluates teachers and principals. The state is the first to lose its waiver.

In February 2012, the state committed to making student learning growth a substantial factor in those reviews. Last August, it was placed on high-risk status for failing to implement that and other changes, giving the state until May 1 to produce a plan. Because that would require a legislative change and Washington’s legislature won’t reconvene until next January, Duncan said the state would be losing its waiver.

Read more from this story HERE.

Washington State Gov. Inslee Suspends Death Penalty

Photo Credit: Kathleen Tyler ConklinGov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday he was suspending the use of the death penalty in Washington state, announcing a move that he hopes will enable officials to “join a growing national conversation about capital punishment.”

The Democrat said he came to the decision after months of review, meetings with family members of victims, prosecutors and law enforcement.

“There have been too many doubts raised about capital punishment, there are too many flaws in this system today,” Inslee said at a news conference. “There is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system.”

Inslee said that the use of the death penalty is inconsistent and unequal. The governor’s staff briefed lawmakers about the move on Monday night and Tuesday morning.

Read more from this story HERE.

Washington’s Three Most Irrational Arguments in 2013

Photo Credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Photo Credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Washington, they say, is Hollywood for ugly people. It’s also debate club for the logically impaired. The past year included its share of fallacies, sophistries, oversimplifications and utter absurdities.

But a few prominent arguments committed the worst offenses against rational thought. Below are the three worst arguments made in Washington in 2013. These weren’t illogical brain freezes or odd beliefs spouted by backbenchers. These arguments were deliberately devised, promulgated and repeated by prominent politicians, which makes them all the more embarrassing.

“If we can save only one life…”

The demagoguery started early in 2013, as Democrats tried to push gun-control laws in the wake of the December 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The White House argued for gun restrictions using a litany of facile talking points, most absurdly this gem by President Obama: “If there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.”

Vice President Joe Biden echoed the line: “As the president said, if your actions result in only saving one life, they’re worth taking.” White House spokesman Jay Carney repeated the mantra: “If even one child’s life can be saved by the actions we take here in Washington, we must take those actions.”

Read more from this story HERE.