Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” That saying is as relevant to Washington today as it was during Churchill’s time. Back in 2009, with the country still in turmoil from the financial crisis, then White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel echoed the notion that when the country is in crisis politicians should use that crisis to do things they may not normally be able to do. This type of cynical and opportunistic approach to politics is probably just one of the many reasons why so many people have so little faith in our political institutions. The problems on the border are shaping up to be another opportunity for the President and Congress to turn a humanitarian crisis on the border into a fiscal crisis.
President Obama submitted a $3.7 billion supplemental spending bill for measures that would (according to the Administration) constitute an aggressive approach to this problem:
The president sent a massive $3.7 billion request seeking funds for everything from transportation costs to border enforcement to surveillance to health services… Officials said they are taking an “aggressive” approach… For the time being, the administration is seeking additional funding to handle the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors now being housed in facilities across the country.
The White House released a statement calling on Congress to approve the spending with the President saying, “I urge the Congress to act expeditiously in considering this important request.”
While TPA certainly understands that there are pressing issues on the border, that shouldn’t mean that Congress can’t look for spending cuts to pay for the $3.7 billion. In fact, this is a situation where Congress can show fiscal leadership and appropriate money for a problem without increasing the deficit or debt. Taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for billions of dollars of more government spending when there are billions of dollars being wasted away in Washington right now that could easily be transferred to spend on tackling the ongoing crisis on the border.
The first place that TPA suggest Congress look is the $7 billion in earmarks in the Fiscal Year 2014 Defense Appropriations Bill. The list of projects highlighted by TPA shows that there is plenty of money capable of being transferred from earmarks that weren’t requested by the Pentagon.
Specifically, the Abrams tank is an earmark that should disappear immediately. Congress recently approved $90 million for the Abrams tank, while Military leaders have continually expressed their derision of the program to elected officials. General Ray Odierno, who currently serves as the US Army’s Chief of Staff, has gone on the record to tell appropriators the Army doesn’t want nor does it need any more money for the Abrams tank.
There were also 25 earmarks worth $1 billion in health research funded through the Pentagon that wasn’t requested by the Pentagon.
Also, let’s not forget the poster child for waste at DoD, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. TPA, and numerous other groups, have highlighted the wasted taxpayer dollars that have, and will continue to fund this boondoggle (read an excellent analysis by Taxpayers for Common Sense here). With the Pentagon saying it could spend $396 billion to purchase 2,456 of these aircrafts in the next few decades, that’s reason enough alone to take another serious look at the plagued program.
Congress should work with the Pentagon and the White House to eliminate the unrequested spending. This would both make the funds available for the President wants to do regarding calls to action on Southwest border, and show that Congress is serious about the deficit and debt.
There are times when bold and aggressive action should be taken, but when it comes to matters of policy, it shouldn’t be the default position for elected officials to use any problem or “crisis” as a reason to spend money without considering spending cuts. TPA hopes that Congress will look to offset any money spent on man-made disasters like the border crisis or natural disasters like hurricanes and floods with spending cuts.