How To Stuff Pork Into Bills While Pretending That You’re Above That Sort Of Thing By Betsy Newmark

Kevin Hasslett explains how the Democrats in Congress have, despite campaigning against pork-spending, have found ways to get their pork and eat it too. They were all virtuous about the pork that Republicans had inserted into bills as symbolized by the notorious Bridge to Nowhere. The Democrats trumpeted their paygo solution that they wouldn’t put new spending into a bill without including a way to pay for it.

How could they continue to behave so badly in spite of their aggressive paygo measures?

There are two big reasons.

The first is a key feature of the new rules that has gone mostly unnoticed. I hope you are sitting down, because you may find the next sentence startling: The paygo formula doesn’t apply to discretionary appropriations like the infamous bridge.

When the Democrats told you they would enact a paygo rule, you thought they meant they would enact a policy that made it tougher to engage in wasteful spending. But if you propose a Woodstock Museum (as Hillary Clinton did), or a Carp Barrier (as Barack Obama did), then it can be approved without having to pass a procedural paygo hurdle.

Paygo only applies to changes in taxes, continuation of expiring tax provisions and mandatory spending, things like veterans’ compensation and food stamps.

Profligate Spenders

So Congress can and does add new spending whenever it wants.

The profligate spenders have another advantage that is even bigger come budget time. The CBO baseline, the ultimate metric of fiscal virtue, is a pork spender’s best friend.

If an idiotic appropriation is made just for this year, the CBO assumes that the appropriation will be made forever, and even kindly adjusts for inflation so that we stay real, not just nominal, idiots. It does this even if Congress explicitly appropriates the money on a one-time basis.

If we spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a project this year, then we will, as the Alaska delegation did in 2005, have to take some heat to get it passed. But next year, and the year after, that money will be in the baseline. We can waste it again and again, and do it without any notice.

How clever to write the rules just so. And then to be sure that such manipulation doesn’t apply to tax cuts.

Notice how sharply the treatment of spending differs from the treatment of tax cuts. President George W. Bush’s tax cuts are set to expire, and any attempt to renew them looks like it will cost hundreds of billions of dollars relative to the baseline. Because of that appearance, Democrats regularly wail about the horrible deficit effects of extending the cuts.

That baseline, by the way, now includes the funding for Alaska’s infamous bridge. Congress eventually, as a result of the uproar, didn’t explicitly fund that bridge but gave Alaska that sum of money anyway. And that sum is now part of our budget’s baseline. Tricky, that, eh?

This content was used with the permission of Betsy’s Page.

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