Keeping a Tighter Hold on the Taxpayer’s Wallet

The USA Act (Unauthorized Spending Accountability Act of 2016) would gradually sunset unauthorized and unappropriated spending by the government. Government seldom reports on its own boondoggles with over the top costs billed to the taxpayer. That role is taken on by dedicated monitors such as Tom Schatz’s Council of Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW) who compile the ugly truth on government misspending.

CCAGW’s annual “Pig Book” lists wasteful earmarks wedged into federal bills. Earmarks are generally oversized authorizations inserted by a single representative which benefit a very narrow clutch of people. By drawing attention to these cynical abuses of the taxpayer, CCAGW has helped reduce the toll of misspent funds.

Fortunately, there are some elected representatives who are determined to curb abuses of the taxpayers. When they are serious, they ask the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for an investigation into the matter. A recent CBO investigation targeted the unauthorized spending by government departments and agencies. To clamp down on this irresponsibility, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.) introduced the USA Act which gradually sunsets spending on government programs that have outlived their authorization or that lack an appropriation. This will help chip away at the $310 billion in 2016’s unauthorized spending within 256 programs.

Not all of those programs are classic nonsense like the “bridge to nowhere” or shutting down entire forests to protect a half-dozen spotted owls. A majority of the $310 billion goes to operating familiar government functions within NASA, the Department of State and other agencies. Not surprisingly, many Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs lack spending appropriation for fiscal 2016.

EPA has shown a shameful track record in water contamination. It’s participation in Flint Michigan’s dirty water cover-up and its polluting of Colorado’s Animas River call its competence into question. Its judgement is condemned by its risible fantasy of how small a trickle of water can be deemed “navigable” and thus under its regulatory purview. When agencies and departments lack authorization or appropriation, the Congress or White House have either shirked their job of negotiating, authorizing and appropriating funds aligned with the fiscal budget, or spending is being done by rogue government employees.

Admittedly, the more controversial the program, the more difficult it is to negotiate an agreement on the parameters and budget value to the public. But our representatives are not allowed to punt and government is not allowed to make it up as they go. If the appropriations are not completed, the Congress must make sure the White House doesn’t declare a silent victory and proceed to implement and spend any way it chooses. Clearly that has happened in 256 instances during 2016.

Regardless of who dropped the fiscal ball on these hundreds of programs, the American public expects and deserves to have programs thoughtfully reviewed, reauthorized and appropriated before Treasury feels free to cut checks to pay for them. Per capita, there is almost one thousand dollars in unfinished fiscal business on the Congressional table. Even on the Hill some consider that real money. The USA Act is designed to rekindle the kind of fiscal diligence that shows respect for both elected officials and the interests of the people.

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