Keeping The Government Lights On

Weekly WastebasketKeeping The Government Lights OnDistractions shouldn't keep Congress from doing their basic constitutional duty – funding government.

Budget & Tax,  | Weekly Wastebasket
Sep 27, 2019  | 4 min read | Print Article

While most eyes in DC were elsewhere, the Senate quietly sent an extension of government funding to the president’s desk before Monday’s end of the fiscal year.

The package would keep government’s lights on through November 21st. The federal flood insurance program and the Export-Import Bank would be extended for the same period. And while congressional leadership claimed it was “clean,” there were several provisions that caught a ride on this must-pass bill.

For instance, sugar beet growers get “emergency” income subsidies. Who knew that was a problem. Probably House Agriculture Committee Colin Peterson (D-MN) who’s district produces nearly twice as many sugar beets as any other district. (Second place is the entire state of North Dakota).

There’s also a provision that enables the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) payments even if there is a shutdown after the CR expires. The bill also waives the requirement that researchers match grant funds received under the Specialty Crop Research Initiative. Matches help demonstrate a real need and interest and make federal funds go further.

The bill also has a provision to keep the bribes farmer hush money payments flowing. The Trump Administration has been using depression-era authorities to cut checks from USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation and shower them on farming and ranching businesses hurt by the trade war. They’ve promised $28 billion and risked bumping up against the $30 billion limit until they reset the line-of-credit at the Treasury with this provision.

The bill keeps doling out the favors, there’s an additional $16.5 million for USDA to implement an industrial hemp program – a pet project of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The Office of Personnel Management – threatened with abolishment – is protected. Speaking of protection, the bill authorizes the Secret Service to spend what it needs on protective services leading up the 2020 election. Often presidential candidates gain protective services even before the nomination as threats mount. Sad but true.

There’s more, but you get the point.

The most important thing is that this will keep the government operating as lawmakers and the administration hammer out the actual spending bills to fund government for the rest of the fiscal year. This is important because CRs are wasteful. They hamstring much of government and prevent long term decisions from being made. Then when the agencies get their funds, there’s a scramble to spend it in the remaining months of the fiscal year.

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That said, as wasteful as CRs can be, they are better than the alternative – a shutdown.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the majority and minority staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) looked into the impacts of the three recent shutdowns (totaling 54 days). It wasn’t pretty. CBO found that they shaved 0.4 percent off of annualized real GDP growth in the first quarter of 2019 and HSGAC tabulated the cost to taxpayers at nearly $4 billion. And that’s a lowball because several agencies, including the Department of Defense and USDA provided incomplete data. Even at that rate taxpayers lost out on nearly 15 million federal work days. That comes out to almost 57,000 years of lost work. It can never be made back up.

There’s a lot to distract Congress these days, but that can’t keep them from doing their basic constitutional duty – funding government.