April 14, 2008

April 14, 2008 | Commentary on Federal Budget

Congress Preparing for Another Spending Binge

PEPFAR

Congress is on the verge of passing a $50 billion version of the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). This bill would triple the current level of funding of $15 billion over the past five years. The House of Representatives passed the massive bill by a 308-116 margin on April 2 after rejecting a proposal to scale back the program to $30 billion.

Yes, this is the same Congress that sustained a presidential veto of a children's health insurance bill which would have expanded it by $35 billion over five years and imposed a 61 cent tax on tobacco products.

Conservatives are concerned that PEPFAR eliminates current restrictions that require the monies be spent on HIV/AIDS treatment and expands the program from Africa and the Caribbean to Communist China and Russia. It would go from a specific program to alleviate AIDS in Third World nations to a program for food, water, treatment of other infectious diseases, poverty programs, schools, legal aid, agriculture assistance and government advocacy.

This mission creep would include increased support for the corruption-ridden United Nations. Indeed, the bill would double our annual contribution to the U.N.-affiliated Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS to $2 billion. The Fund, which runs programs not bound by U.S. laws on abortion funding, needle exchange and prostitution, has been accused of having serious administrative malfeasance.

Mexico Aid

Later this month, Congress also will consider a bill provide a $108 billion war supplemental to fund efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the Bush administration may have opened the door for matters not directly related to the war effort by including significant resources to foreign-aid programs -- specifically, $500 million for Mexico to fight transnational crime and drug trafficking.
 
The Administration has worked closely with Mexico on the Merida Initiative, a new cooperative agreement with Mexico and other Central American nations to stop drug trafficking and cross border crime. Conservatives balk at this initiative because they believe this is part of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, which many fear would help establish a North American Union. The dollar figure for the aid package being discussed is a staggering $1.4 billion. And, the Associated Press reports, Mexican President Felipe Calderon has rejected any conditions on how this massive aid package would be spent.

Furthermore, Congress is ready to add a so-called "Stimulus 2" package of items to the supplemental. This package of pork reportedly will include such items as extended unemployment benefits and infrastructure spending, as well as more funding for national parks, local law enforcement, and a proposal to compensate states for falling revenues from timber sales on federal lands.

Webb/Warner GI Bill

Conservatives should also be leery of the veteran's spending bill likely to be tacked onto the supplemental. Despite the good intentions of Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and John Warner (R-Va.), the bill does not have the blessing of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake or Senate Veteran's Affairs Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) because it would hurt retention rates, be difficult to administer, and further contribute to the hollowing of our military.

Unlike WWII, today's war is fought with an all-volunteer force. Defense officials are concerned that retention rates will drop as well-trained troops head to the classroom. Sen. Warner echoed the military's concern before he was a co-sponsor, estimating that re-enlistment rates would drop by 5 to 10 percentage points.

The director of education services for the VA, who would oversee the program, said, "The anticipated high benefits cost…and the anticipated administrative burden associated with this bill are all problematic." If the cost of Webb/Warner balloons, as a previous VA analysis suggests, personnel costs will begin squeezing out the capital budget, further hollowing our military. America needs to have a serious conversation about our veterans, not a feel-good measure that will make our country less safe.

So dig a little deeper into your kids' college fund and think twice before booking a summer vacation -- because all of these programs cost real money.

Brian Darling is director of U.S. Senate Relations at The Heritage Foundation

About the Author

Brian Darling Senior Fellow for Government Studies
Government Studies

Related Issues: Federal Budget

First appeared on Humanevents.com