Valentine’s Day: Federal Budget Edition

Weekly WastebasketValentine’s Day: Federal Budget EditionLove and scorn abound in this year’s presidential budget request

It is that time of year again. Chocolates, greeting cards, overpriced flowers, maybe a candlelit dinner with a loved one – it’s Valentine’s Day! But while you’ve been trying to bribe the snooty maître d’ for that exclusive reservation, we have been shacked up with the FY2021 President’s Budget Request. The $4.8 trillion funding request is a starting point. It is a way for the president to let Congress know which programs are sweethearts of the administration, and which ones are on the outs. These are some of the budget items that got that extra special attention and others who were ghosted by their presidential paramour:

The Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account continues to get plenty of love this year with a $69 billion funding request. The account is something of a slush fund for the Pentagon to fund pet projects that should be in the “base” budget. The account provides funding to programs like the European Deterrence Initiative, which is certainly not a contingency, but it is overseas! At $69 billion, OCO, which is just a small portion of the $705.4 billion pentagon budget, would be the fourth largest “agency” of the federal government in terms of discretionary spending.

The Trump Administration is positively swooning over biofuels this year. The FY2021 budget request includes $100 million in funding for USDA’s Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program. The program, dreamt up and implemented by Agricultural Secretary Sonny Perdue in FY2020 without Congressional input, is just another means to ply the mature biofuels industry with federal subsidies. Established industries like corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel have enjoyed undivided government attention for decades in the form of billion dollar subsidies. It’s time taxpayers end this love affair.

Talking out of both sides of his mouth, President Trump is sending mixed signals on subsidies for farmers and ranchers. On the one hand, the administration professes love for taxpayer savings, proposing $43 billion in savings from the complex web of farm bill income entitlements. But this administration’s actions speak louder than words (written in the FY2021 budget). Despite repeatedly making these same money saving promises in the past, the administration has been fawning over farming businesses. After pushing for $28 billion in government aid instead of trade, nearly $6 billion in “emergency” disaster spending, and signing a trillion dollar farm bill, it’s clear the president is head-over-heels in love with subsidizing farmers. The problem is it’s taxpayers, not the president, footing the bill for the bailouts of his new found boo.

No love is lost between the administration and the Department of Energy’s Title XVII Loan Guarantee program. For four years running the administration requested no funding for the program which has shown reckless abandon with taxpayer dollars. In fits of puppy love, the Title XVII program has funded projects like Solyndra that have gone belly-up taking millions in taxpayer dollars down with them.  We must admit, as a friend and confidant, we would be happy to see this toxic relationship end.

Finally, the administration seems to be having a lovers quarrel with the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. The FY2021 President’s Budget Request includes a mere $11.4 billion, down from $12.6 billion in FY2020, for the most expensive procurement program in Pentagon history. But please don’t call it a “cut”. In fact, the administration is asking for a steady rate of procurement similar to last year’s request. But Congress added 20 airframes last year, making this look like a drop in the procurement request. Optics, people! The program was originally conceived as a way to save the Pentagon money, developing a single plane for the United States Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps rather than each developing an aircraft independently. The cost of the program has since ballooned to over $1.5 trillion.

Oh well. The course of love may well never have run smooth. But we’re not about to clear the path for stupid Cupids.

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