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One thousand six hundred and sixty five pages of instructions for spending your money

May 2, 2017

Over the weekend, our fearless leaders in Congress apparently reached an agreement forestalling the next day of reckoning on a government shutdown for a few months, and delivered an appropriations bill to be voted on tomorrow.

You can view the bill, which governs spending authority for the federal government (at least, the ‘discretionary spending’) in the entirety of its 1,665 pages, here.

A casual gazing-over can be a healthy thing, at least, if strong medicine is good for you.  The scale and scope of our government’s spending is breathtaking – and that money has to come from somewhere, even if it apparently comes out of thin air.

So far, my favorite pithy summary was in an article in Vice News, titled “Democrats and Republicans avoid a shutdown by giving everyone more money.”

My casual gaze-over of the bill, and a companion cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, leads to (at least) three sources of irony.

  1. The CBO cost estimate is for something called the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017.”  However, the Consolidated Appropriations Act was delivered as an amendment to another piece of legislation, and that was titled “The Honoring Investments in Recruiting and Employing American Veterans Act of 2017.” The latter title is at the top of the 1,665 pages. Was this done strategically?
  1. The CBO cost estimate notes that it applies to ‘discretionary’ spending only. Social Security and Medicare are not included – they are ‘mandatory spending.’ If that is true, however, how can the federal government continue to exclude massive unfunded obligations in Social Security and Medicare from its balance sheet?  The government says that it doesn’t have to include them because it can ‘change the law at any time.'  Hmm.
  1. The CBO cost estimate includes a line item for “Defense,” with nearly $600 billion in appropriated budget authority. But in the line items for 11 other areas outside “Defense,” the cost estimate includes both ‘defense’ and ‘nondefense’ appropriations, including the likes of $75 billion in ‘nondefense’ appropriations for “Military Construction, VA.” A reminder that “defense” spending is a lot bigger than the federal budget for defense.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department is probably the single biggest reason our federal government has garnered a disclaimer of opinion on its financial statements for nearly 20 years.

Maybe there are better ways to Honor Our Veterans.

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