For the Good of Illinois

Real Clear Politics: Billion-Dollar Binge Buying Is No Way to Budget

May 1, 2019 02:00 PM
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Billion-Dollar Binge Buying Is No Way to Budget

 
By Joni Ernst and Adam Andrzejewski
May 1, 2019
 

At a Cabinet meeting last October, President Trump instructed the heads of every federal agency to cut their budgets by at least 5% this year.


Ironically, just days earlier, those same agencies had blown through $53 billion in a single week during the annual "use it or lose it" shopping spree that has become one of Washington’s most notorious traditions. If not spent by midnight on Sept. 30, the last day of the fiscal year, the money may no longer be available for new obligations — meaning bureaucrats have a clear incentive to spend taxpayer dollars needlessly.


The compulsive buying included fidget spinners, musical instruments, and even games and toys, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan watchdog group OpenTheBooks.com.


Iowa taxpayers, and hard-working folks across the country, should be appalled by what these agencies rushed to spend their funds on. Some of the other last-minute purchases included:

  • $4.6 million for lobster tail and crab;
  • $2.1 million on games, toys, and wheeled goods;
  • $1.2 million for sponsorship of Professional Bull Riders LLC;
  • $308,994 on beer and booze;
  • $201 million on advertising;
  • $53,004 for china tableware;
  • $40,379 on clocks;
  • $24,993 for candy;
  • $17,900 for five tons of tater tots, 10 tons of dry pinto beans, and five tons of dry pasta;
  • $11,816 on a commercial foosball table; and
  • $9,341 on a Wexford leather club chair.
  • While some of the items might be justifiable, the manner in which many were purchased is not.  Incentivizing these agencies to rush to spend as quickly as possible makes it more likely they’ll waste money on unnecessary goods and services instead of securing the best deals for taxpayers.


As taxpayers know, it’s never smart to rush into a big purchase. Unfortunately, it seems Washington bureaucrats don’t agree, especially when it’s Americans’ tax dollars they’re dealing with. This frivolous and reckless spending is simply not good practice and an unwise way to steward the taxpayer dollars.


Washington’s spending disorder gets more expensive every year. The $97 billion rung up in September 2018 is 15% more than was spent the same month the previous year and a staggering 39% increase from September 2015.

To be fair, Congress shares much of the blame.  


Failing to pass the appropriations bills necessary to fund the government on time makes it difficult for agencies to thoughtfully plan and allocate billions of dollars. That’s why I’ve fought hard to make sure Congress completes its job of appropriating and budgeting on time. Through my No Budget, No Recess Act, members of Congress would be banned from leaving Washington if we fail to pass a budget by April 15 or approve regular spending bills by Aug. 1.


But, if federal agencies follow the president’s directive to trim their budgets by 5%, an easy place to start is by simply cutting the dollars they have been unable to spend.


Every year, federal agencies have leftover money. This year, it’s estimated to be $825 billion in unspent, unobligated funds. Last year’s $804 billion budget deficit could have been a surplus if most of the $833 billion in last year’s unobligated balances held in federal coffers had been canceled.  Instead, federal agencies ordered lobster tail and tons of tater tots as the U.S. amassed its largest shortfall since 2012.


Iowans sent me to the Senate with a specific mission: cut wasteful spending and make Washington squeal. Taxpayers across the country are forced to pay for Washington’s repeated careless spending habits; it’s time we put an end to this reckless behavior.


Billion-dollar binge buying is no way to budget, which is why I am introducing the End-of-Year Fiscal Responsibility Act. This bill would limit an agency’s spending in the last two months of the year to no more than the average it spent per month during the preceding 10 months.  This limit only applies to discretionary spending. Entitlement payments, like Social Security and Medicare, and national security-related expenditures would be exempt and unaffected. 


This bill won’t end all wasteful spending, but it will force agencies to put more thought into long-term planning and curtail the out-of-control impulsive spending.

With our national debt now surpassing $22 trillion, Washington should be looking for ways to save by canceling or delaying unnecessary expenses, rather than splurging on end-of-year wish lists.

 
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