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Jerry Shenk


Budgeting Gimmicks Legislators Love

by Jerry Shenk
 

A reader questioned a statement in a recent column -- "Congress should introduce zero-based budgeting, stop blanket appropriations, and demand that, annually, every agency, by department, make a public case for funding." -- asking: "Isn't 'zero-based budgeting' what Congress does?"

Sadly, it's not. Congress uses "baseline budgeting," a gimmicky spending accelerator favored by profligates in both parties to guarantee annual increases for federal agencies and programs regardless of their merit or benefits to taxpayers.

Baseline.org's website explains: "[A] baseline government budget involves carrying over the current spending level from year to year and treating it as the floor on which to build additional spending changes. The major assumption in this approach is that the existing spending level of the agency is correct and needs no adjustment. Any new change should be on top of the existing level, not into it."
Government spending watchdog organization Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) pegs it: "In reality, baseline budgeting is one of the most sinister ways that politicians claim to cut spending when they are actually increasing spending."
If an agency requests a 7% budget increase, but Congress authorizes a 3% increase, the difference is called a "4 percent budget cut," when it merely reduces the rate of increase.
CAGW: "For example, if an agency's budget is projected to grow by $100 million, but only grows by $75 million, according to baseline budgeting, that agency sustained a $25 million cut."
Accordingly, spending always increases, and government programs never die, not even lousy, outdated or redundant ones.

A 2011 Government Accountability Office report identified significant waste in duplicate or overlapping agencies and programs, citing 34 areas for potential savings. Congress took no action.

In a sane world, Congress would do what working families do: Calculate how much money the government will have in a fiscal year and then, based on priorities, budget how those funds will be spent.

But there's little sane about Washington. If there were, America's debt wouldn't have outgrown its economy. We wouldn't be staggering under a national debt that exceeds the nation's Gross Domestic Product.

A 2010 Rasmussen survey reported that 83 percent of Americans believed the size of federal budget deficits was due more to the unwillingness of politicians to cut spending than to the reluctance of taxpayers to pay more taxes. Sourprisingly, 66 percent of Democrats agreed. Only 11 percent of all voters thought the government spent taxpayers' money wisely. An overwhelming majority still blames Washington profligacy.

One might think that a Congress which costs taxpayers $15.3 million per day (weekdays or weekends, in or out of session) in salaries, allowances and miscellaneous costs could summon enough cumulative conscience and brainpower to address its spending addiction.

Sans spending controls, when interest rates increase, debt service will crowd out other expenditures and sink the economy. Think: Detroit or, worse, Greece.

Nevertheless, seemingly unaccountable national politicians have committed current and future taxpayers to massive expenditures on interest payments for which Americans receive nothing.

Reelect them at your grandchildren's peril.


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