Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Zika Bill Gimmick Could Cost Americans An Additional $623 Million

To paraphrase David Letterman, Stupid Government Accounting Tricks.

By Justin Bogie | July 5, 2016 | 10:36 AM EDT

In the wee hours of last Thursday morning, the House of Representatives passed a $1.1 billion emergency funding package to respond to and prepare for the ongoing health threat caused by the Zika virus.

This was the same amount proposed by the Senate bill that was passed in May. However, unlike the Senate bill, the House amendment claimed that about two-thirds of the costs would be offset.

A press release from the House Appropriations Committee touted that the bill “contains $750 million in offsets to save taxpayer dollars.”

In reality, the bill doesn’t even come close to the amount of offsets that were promised and is yet another example of Congress’ power brokers misleading their fellow lawmakers and constituents in order to spend more money.

According to the official score of the bill released by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office a day after the vote, only $127 million of the $750 million in promised offsets would ever be realized. This is less than 17 percent of the original total. One might be left to wonder, where did the supposed $750 million total come from?

The funds came in the form of rescissions from two sources—international assistance programs and the Department of Health and Human Services. The latter included $543 million in so called Changes in Mandatory Programs, or CHIMPs, savings from funds originally allocated for the Affordable Care Act, which the bill was ultimately credited with $0 in outlay savings for.

While on paper these accounts may have technically had $750 million that was available to be spent in 2016, the reality is that these funds were never going to be spent at anywhere near that rate. In actuality, by “saving” taxpayers $750 million, Congress allowed for $623 million in new spending that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would not have otherwise happened.

It has already been recommended that Congress pay for Zika expenses through previously allocated Ebola funding. There are more than enough funds available that would cover the $1.1 billion proposed by this bill.

What is more troubling than Congress not using these existing funds to deal with the Zika outbreak though, is the fact that it has used phony offsets to sell this bill to lawmakers that are reluctant to allocate additional resources for this purpose.

Offsets are used commonly as a way to pay for new spending and to appease members of Congress so that important issues can be addressed without adding onto the country’s already ballooning debt level. Far too many times, they and the public learn after the fact that the promises made to garner their support will never materialize.

It is imperative that members of Congress have access to completed Congressional Budget Office scores of bills before they are asked to vote on them. If members had known the true amount of these offsets before the chaotic middle of the night vote last week, a number of them might have chosen to vote differently.

Congress must stop misleading Americans on the real costs of legislation that it is debating and find concrete ways to pay for necessary government programs and activities.

Justin Bogie is a senior policy analyst in fiscal affairs at The Heritage Foundation.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Daily Signal.

Thank You Daily Signal, Mr Bogie and CNS.

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