Congress's spending goes unchecked, with more likely
Lawmakers approve war costs, new veterans' benefits, and relief for flooded Midwest. But 'pay as you go' principle is ignored in the Senate.
Before leaving town last week, Congress wrapped up a $162 billion war-funding bill and expanded America's entitlement system by giving veterans the biggest boost in college benefits since the World War II GI bill.Skip to next paragraph
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Lawmakers also added a 13-week extension to unemployment benefits and approved $2.7 billion in emergency relief for the storm-lashed Midwest.
Despite commitments to fiscal discipline on both sides of the aisle, none of it is paid for – at least not by today's taxpayers.
"There is absolutely no appetite to make hard choices," says Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, citing the war-funding bill. "There's never been any attempt to pay for the war, and now that's being used to expand a major entitlement program for veterans, which might be a good idea, but we ought to pay for it."
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress has voted some $857 billion in war funding, according to the Congressional Research Service. That includes $656 billion for Iraq, $173 billion for Afghanistan, and $29 billion for enhanced security – all of it so-called emergency spending paid for with borrowed money.
The new GI Bill of Rights, estimated to cost $62 billion over 10 years, is a permanent entitlement that pays four years of college tuition for veterans who have served since the 9/11 attacks. At the urging of President Bush, this new benefit will also be transferable to spouses or children to help prevent a mass exodus from the military after the new benefit comes on line.
In the House, conservative Democrats won support for offsets for the new entitlement with a new tax on Americans making more than $500,000 a year, but that provision fell out of the final version of the bill after GOP protests in the Senate.
"We were very glad that the House passed a bill that did pay for it and were disappointed that the final bill did not. But in the scheme of things, we're talking about something that costs $0.6 billion a year against a war that's costing $150 billion to $170 billion a year – and we're not paying for that," says Richard Kogan, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington.