WASHINGTON--The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan budget watchdog group, said today that the omnibus spending bill fails the test of fiscal discipline by squandering nearly a third of the projected unified budget surplus--a "surplus" which is only possible by counting the Social Security program's surplus in the calculation.
"The budget process only works when the political will is there. Unfortunately, this omnibus bill signals a major breakdown in fiscal discipline," said Concord Coalition Executive Director Martha Phillips. "All involved with this deal should be embarrassed that they drove a $21 billion semi-truck through the emergency-spending loophole."
Concord notes that in budgeting, an emergency is supposed to be a) unexpected, b) urgent, and c) a one-time occurrence. Most of the $21 billion in so-called emergency spending does not meet these criteria. Emergency spending levels, not counting Desert Storm, have varied in a range of $1 to $12 billion since 1991.
"How long have we known that the year 2000 was coming? How many years have we been in Bosnia? How often has there been some sort of natural or farm disaster requiring federal assistance? How long have we known that nuclear wastes need to be cleaned up?" said Phillips. "These needs, if deemed priorities, should be funded through the normal budget process."
Concord also worries that the use of the emergency loophole may represent the beginning of a wholesale breakdown in the budget caps. The projected unified budget surpluses in the future are based on the assumption that the caps enacted in 1997 will be observed. These caps require a 10 percent cut after inflation in discretionary spending by 2002.
"It is clear that rhetoric does not equal political will," said Phillips. "This year's gluttony is a warning signal. Voters should insist that Congress stop giving away the surplus for short-term political gain."
The Concord Coalition is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization seeking to eliminate federal budget deficits and ensure that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are secure for all generations. Concord was founded in 1992 by the late former Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.), former Sen. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.), and former Secretary of Commerce Peter Peterson. Former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) was named a co-chair of the Concord Coalition in 1997.