Vote Notes: H.R. 3219, the Make America Secure Act
Who knows which movie goes with the lines below?
“Yeah. The world ain't what it seems, is it, Gunnie?”
“You keep that in mind. The moment you think you got it figured, you’re wrong.”
For those of you who are not fans of the movie “Shooter,” the words above come with the interplay between the movie’s main character, Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg), and a rural gunsmith from Tennessee, Mr. Rate.
In fact, Mr. Rate goes on to say, “they also said that artificial sweeteners were safe, WMDs were in Iraq, and Anna Nicole married for love.” And the simple point of all of this is that often times, things aren’t quite what they seem.
Such was the case with H.R. 3219, the Make America Secure Act...commonly known as the “minibus appropriation.” It included four of the twelve spending bills that Congress passes each year to fund government. This bill includes a grand total of $789.6 billion in 2018 spending...$658.6 to the military, $88.8 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs and for military construction projects, $37.6 for energy and water-related projects, $3.58 billion for the legislative branch, and finally, $1.6 billion for wall construction along our southern border with Mexico.
I support additional funding for defense, which has been hard pressed by the sequester. I support funding for a wall. In this case, the bill spent $1.6 billion for an additional 70 miles of wall construction. We have roughy 700 miles fenced and about 1300 miles without a border wall or fencing, and I am curious on why it’s now running over $20 million dollars a mile. It seems we could do something that stretches this money further than 70 miles in a 1,300 mile opening, but to the larger point, I support action here. There were a number of other things I supported in the bill - whether tied to national action or federal activity in Charleston or Beaufort, but I believe we have to do those things in the light of sustainable spending.
We aren't there this year. In fact, it seems that few in Washington are paying much attention to the debt, deficits, or the theme of federal spending.
So, my no vote was not about the particulars of these appropriation bills, they were probably as good as they were going to get in this year…the problem is the foundation on which they are constructed, and that is clearly unsustainable spending.
In the real world, we adjust our business and family budgets regularly. And in doing so, we may increase one category while we decrease another. Isn’t that the whole idea of a budget? We set priorities and, accordingly, have to adjust things around them. We never simply ask why we don’t just include more on all of the above.
Fundamentally, this is what this year’s appropriations process is built around.
Let me give you a few specifics….
One, the budget this year proposes to increase spending by about $70 billion. This would be paid for by suggested cuts to mandatory spending of $200 billion. The problem is these mandatory spendings may or may not come at any point in the next ten years. No Congress can obligate another Congress. They’re new every two years. To suggest that we can dictate policy five Congresses from now is inventive…but hardly financially prudent. It’s for this reason that the Congressional Budget Office presumes that this year’s deficit would increase by $65 billion.
If you care about this sort of thing and its implications for our way of life and those we love, how do you sign off on the spending that is based on that budget projection?
Two, a gaming of the budget caps is already under way. What’s proposed in the House budget is to dramatically increase military spending. What you can certainly expect on the Senate side is that the same will be done on the rest of domestic discretionary. This works out well for everyone but the taxpayer, wherein this case 1+1 will equal two more dollars of spending for each of us, as we make our way through this year’s spending cycle.
Three, what I’ve outlined above is the optimistic case. It presumes that the numbers that have been laid out in the budget are realistic. They are not. I strongly believe that the House budget’s economic growth projections are optimistic, just as the Trump budget projections have already been proven to be by the Congressional Budget Office. The long and the short of this means that if the gross numbers aren’t reached, we are looking at somewhere around another trillion dollars in debt and deficit that will be added to our respective tabs.
Two last points to be watchful of, as we go through spending this year.
One, slush funds. In this bill, it takes $28.6 billion of defense spending and puts it into something called the National Defense Restoration Fund. This is essentially a bank account that the Secretary of Defense can tap to pay for virtually any project related to modernizing or restoring any element of our Armed Forces at any time, so long as Congress is alerted 15 days in advance. This is a problem because only Congress has the constitutional authority to appropriate funds. Congress is to debate the different priorities and then fund the ones they believe to be most meritorious. While I have the utmost respect for General Mattis, I don’t believe that Congress should give up its power of the purse over the $28.6 billion allocated to this fund.
The other is open-ended commitments.
A prime example of this would be the current Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) contained in this bill. It doesn’t exist. Congress is still operating on a 2001 authorization of force, and doing it this way means that Congress has essentially given a blank check for operations and their costs in the Middle East. This approach is good neither from a constitutional nor a taxpayer standpoint.