April 26, 1999

April 26, 1999 | News Releases on Federal Budget

Congress Should Resist Temptation To Break Spending Caps, Analyst Says

WASHINGTON, APRIL 26, 1999-Congress recently passed a budget proposal that honors the federal spending caps imposed by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, but will members stand by this display of fiscal discipline when the time comes to implement it? The chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees say they can't, but a new paper from The Heritage Foundation says they can-if they're willing to cut wasteful, duplicative and unnecessary programs.

The projected surpluses are lulling Congress into a false sense of security, writes Peter Sperry, a budget analyst in Heritage's Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies. As a result, few members are willing to restrain spending. But "predicting the size of the surplus is like predicting the weather," he writes. Unexpected expenses-such as the Kosovo conflict-can seriously diminish projected surpluses. "Simple prudence dictates that Congress should not 'spend' any projected surpluses until it is clear that they will be realized."

That hasn't stopped members from filling the fiscal year 2000 budget with special-interest projects that hardly qualify as national priorities, Sperry says. Examples include $70 million for the Salt Lake City South Light Rail Transit Project, $47 million for Lackawanna River projects in Pennsylvania, $12.8 million for Wisconsin bus facilities, and buses and $6 million for Panama City beaches in Florida. These programs should be cut, he says.

Sperry recommends several other ways Congress can maintain the spending caps. For example, ending obsolete programs such as the Rural Utilities Service-established in 1936 to bring electricity to rural America, a goal long since accomplished-would save $34 million. Programs that compete with the private sector should be terminated as well, he says, and those that duplicate others can be combined. For example, why are 10 departments and various other federal and non-federal agencies administering 131 programs for "at risk" youth at a cost of $4 billion a year?

"It is better to choose a fiscally responsible course of action now than to have to explain a reversal of fortune later," Sperry writes.

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