“A fiscally irresponsible bidding war appears to be breaking out, putting this year's non-Social Security surplus at risk. Congress and the Administration should strongly resist the temptation to treat this year's projected $26 billion surplus as a pot of ‘free money,' available to be spent on any number of supplemental spending requests. Great care must be taken to find real offsets wherever possible and to resist the election year temptation to pile non-emergency items onto legitimate emergency supplemental legislation,” said Executive Director Robert Bixby.
“Today's emergency supplemental bill alone would spend much of the projected fiscal year 2000 non-Social Security surplus. This might not be cause for alarm if it could be said with confidence that there would be no further supplemental spending requests this year. But it would be ludicrous to assume that there will be no floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, wildfires, or other natural disaster, and no further assistance needed for farmers or military conflicts for the rest of the year.
“We understand that legitimate emergencies will arise during the course of the year and that these will require a swift and effective federal response. But it is because such emergencies will arise, and by historic trends can be expected to cost between $2 and $6 billion in outlays by the end of the year, that appropriators must be particularly careful to not give away the surplus in advance on dubious ‘emergencies,'” Bixby said.
Given that abuse of the emergency spending loophole has skyrocketed over the past two years, it's time to adhere to a strict definition of an emergency. As defined by Office of Management and Budget guidelines and by last year's Congressional Budget Resolution, an emergency must be “necessary,” essential or vital, not merely useful or beneficial; “sudden,” quickly coming into being, not building up over time; “urgent,” a pressing and compelling need, requiring immediate action; “unforeseen,” unpredictable or unanticipated; and “not permanent,” temporary in nature.
It is important to ask whether the emergency supplemental requests meet each of the criteria. Can it be said, for example, that drug fighting activities in Colombia are “unforeseen,” “sudden,” or “temporary” expenses? Should routine defense operations be deemed an emergency simply because of a bipartisan desire to spend more on the military?
“The Concord Coalition believes that surpluses do not alleviate the need to make hard choices among competing priorities. If an item is not a true emergency, it should be fully offset with actual spending reductions elsewhere in the budget. Otherwise, today's projected surplus could all too easily be turned into a year-end deficit. How the two parties deal with this year's surplus is the true test of their commitment to fiscal responsibility,” Bixby said.