September 23, 2014

Rules Waived for ‘Emergency’ Spending on Border Security

  • The federal budget is an expression of our country's values. Where we choose to spend and at what levels, how and who we tax, and the borrowing we...

The Senate passed a sweeping immigration bill last week aided by a costly amendment that directs $46.3 billion more to be spent on border security than under current law. The Senate waived its budget rules to pass the legislation.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation staff projected that the original Senate bill would produce savings of $197 billion over the next decade. To secure several wavering votes, however, the border security amendment was added. It reduced the total projected savings by roughly $40 billion.

The border security funding is designated as “emergency” spending in the bill, exempting it from budget caps, sequestration and pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) rules. This designation was politically convenient to pass the bill but it is inconsistent with the general view that emergency designations should be reserved for items that are necessary, sudden, urgent, unforeseen and temporary.

The Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of senators who spearheaded the effort to reform immigration law, supported the “border surge” amendment. But the gang’s self-imposed July 4 deadline to pass a bill created a rush, with insufficient attention given to whether the additional funding was really necessary and could be used effectively.

Instead of negotiating a compromise that would retain the deficit reduction of the original bill, the Senate took an all-too-familiar path by hastily assembling political support with dubious additional spending.

Speaker John Boehner says the House will pass its own immigration laws, and is unlikely to vote on the Senate bill.