Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Uses and Abuses of Emergencies

The bill designed to finance emergency spending triggered by Hurricane Sandy was debated in the Senate yesterday. This bill has been one of those poster children for Congressional ineffectiveness, since the Senate passed it last session, and the House rejected it -- while doing a poor job explaining the quantity of pork in the bill. -- and then passed a similar bill in the new session to avoid looking bad. Accordingly. the bill has become one of the Exhibits in demonstrating GOP heartlessness, cruelty, and fatuity. This is true, even though  a CBO analysis tells us that only 7 percent of the funding in this bill will be spent this year--FY 2013--and roughly 70 percent of the funding will not be spent until FY 2015 and beyond.

 John McCain (Maverick, AZ), in yesterday's debate, does something the press never does (and GOP members, for some strange reason, never seem able to do), and actually lists out the non-emergency spending in the legislation. I have cheerfully plagiarized his list below. Some items are small, some are large. None require immediate, right now, no delay action (for the reasons explained by the Senator.)
  1. Some of the spending is designed to replace government vehicles ($1 million for DEA to replace 15 vehicles; $230,000 for ATF to replace three vehicles; $300,000 for the Secret Service vehicles; and $855,000 for ICE vehicles.) The Federal Government currently owns or leases over 660,000 vehicles--surely we can find replacements within our current inventory.
  2. $16 billion for Community Development Block Grant funds for 47 States and Puerto Rico that can be used for events in 2011, 2012 and 2013. (In other words -- the appropriation is not specific to folks who are camping out in budget motels waiting to rebuild their New Jersey, New York, Connecticut homes.)
  3. There is $2 million to repair damage to the roofs of museums in Washington, D.C.,
  4. 50 million for National Park Service Historic Preservation grants.
  5. $180 million for the Department of Agriculture's Emergency Watershed Protection program, which helps restore watersheds damaged by wildfires and droughts for areas including Colorado; 
  6. Highway funding for the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands; 
  7. $15 million for NASA facilities, though NASA itself has called its damage from the hurricane ``minimal.'' 
  8.  $111 million for a weather satellite data mitigation gap reserve fund, a controversial program created by President Obama by executive order for ocean zoning planning; 
  9. $8.5 million for weather forecasting equipment; 
  10. $23 million for the USDA ``Forest Restoration Program'' for planting trees on private property. This program is actually a Farm Bill subsidy program that's run by a relatively unknown agency called the ``Farm Service Administration'' which is primarily responsible for managing crop insurance. Under this program, private landowners with about 50 acres of land can apply for up to $500,000 in free grants for tree planting activities. 
  11. The bill also includes $118 million for taxpayer-supported AMTRAK, $86 million more than the President's request. While some of the funding will go for repairs, money will also go to increasing passenger capacity to New York and future mitigation efforts. In a 2-page letter from AMTRAK that gives a broad description of how the money will be spent, almost all of it falls under funding for future capital projects.  AMTRAK is up and running so it is not apparent why this funding is deemed ``emergency'' spending and included in this spending package. Keep in mind, AMTRAK receives roughly $1 billion in annual funding.
  12. The bill includes $100 million for Head Start;
  13.  $1 million for Legal Services Corporation; 
  14. $3.5 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers-- with little clarity on how the money will be spent. More projects are not something the Army Corps can handle. They are currently experiencing a backlog of construction and maintenance projects of approximately $70 billion
By the way -- chock full of waste or not -- this bill passed the Senate 62-36. Hope the Chinese like what they are spending their money on...

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