Only in Washington could nearly $700 billion fester as Congress scrambles for cash.
Earth to the congressional leadership: Precisely $687 billion are in federal coffers, officially "unobligated" and, thus, available.
Nonetheless, Democrats and Republicans are clobbering each other over how to finance a $185 billion, one-year extension of the payroll tax holiday, to help Americans survive today's economic unpleasantness.
Predictably, Democrats hope to use this occasion to slap a 10-year, 1.9 percent surtax on those who earn at least $1 million. This would amplify their new battle cry: "Class war!"
Surprisingly, Republicans have proposed to raise Medicare premiums for prosperous seniors. Affluence testing of entitlements is long overdue. But without preparing the public, especially seniors, for this wise move, the GOP will bare itself to a brand-new round of left-wing lies. e.g. "Nothing gives Republicans more intense pleasure than starving Granny and shoving Gramps down the nearest storm drain."
Meanwhile, tax hikes are dumber than usual today, as the economy suffers nagging chest pains.
Instead, congressional leaders should visit budget.gov, the Office of Management and Budget's website, and inspect a document sizzlingly titled "Balances of Budget Authority — Budget of the U.S. Government: Fiscal Year 2012."
Chart 2 lets this enormous cat out of the federal bag: "Unobligated balances available for future obligation are projected to total $687 billion at the end of fiscal year 2012." Translating from Washingtonian to English, $687 billion in unspent money is accessible for other purposes.
Impossible, yet true: barely a fortnight after the vaunted supercommittee performed its Olympic-class belly flop by failing to cut $1.2 trillion from the $45 trillion that Washington anticipates spending through 2022, Congress now struggles to find $185 billion to extend the payroll-tax cut. These legislators seem almost universally unaware that $687 billion just sits there.
Like money in a checking account that waits in vain for checks to pay, previous congresses authorized these funds, but they were not fully spent. Imagine that Congress in 2002 approved $10 billion to purchase wheelchairs for Vietnam veterans. After every eligible vet received a wheelchair, only $7 billion had been expended. The $3 billion balance then . . . slowly . . . gathers . . . dust.
Non-hypothetical forgotten funds lie neglected at departments and agencies all over Washington, D.C. At the Agriculture Department: $13.7 billion. Defense (military programs): $77.8 billion. Education: $19.1 billion. Housing and Urban Development: $23.8 billion. Labor: $18 billion. Treasury: $225 billion. International assistance: $45 billion. Other independent agencies: $70.1 billion.
These figures, by the way, are not courtesy of the limited-government stalwarts at the Cato Institute nor the Reason Foundation. They come directly from the OMB — President Barack Obama's fiscal experts at the White House.
Congress should harness the moldy cash in these accounts. A payroll tax cut could assist Americans eager for even a scintilla of financial mercy. Using forgotten funds would enable this without steering payroll-tax revenue away from Social Security, which would speed that entitlement's rendezvous with a cliff. Some of this money could help cut the 35 percent corporate tax (the developed world's second highest after Japan's) and, thus, defibrillate America's flat-lined economy. The balance should finance debt reduction, so Americans might resemble our Scottish ancestors rather than our Greek contemporaries.
Freshman Rep. David Schweikert's Forgotten Funds Act would accomplish some of these things. His legislation notwithstanding, Schweikert has watched nearly $700 billion languish, like a pile of gold bars in the Capitol Rotunda that garners hardly a glance.
"Common sense offsets need to play a key part in this discussion, to avoid a continued raid on Social Security," the Arizona Republican told me. "With nearly $700 billion locked up and out of use, releasing these forgotten funds would be a key step to protecting taxpayers."
Congress seems collectively incapable of crossing the street. Why not end 2011 by taking $687 billion in forgotten funds to slice spending, slash personal and business taxes, and stash cash against the national debt? Congress should impress voters as leaders, not losers.
Deroy Murdock is a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. E-mail him at deroy.Murdock@gmail.com.
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