Aiming for Big Watch on Big Budgets – OpEd – Eurasia Review
What if $10 billion were raised more than ten years for civic action to transform Congress and make it do what it should do for the people (see: Think big to overcome big losses due to corporatism 7/1/22)? In a more recent column, Facilitate civic and political energies for the common good 02/02/22 I started a series of articles to explain how 1 billion dollars per year could be spent lobbying Congress for a popular agenda.
The first $100 million a year would be used to pass long-awaited legislation through Congress, such as comprehensive Medicare for All, with a focus on disease prevention and price gouging, lower wage decent, reducing corporate abuse, etc. The second $100 million would be spent on creating facilities that allow people to easily group together in their various roles (e.g. workers, consumers, patients, savers) so they can counter corporate bosses who group their investors and many pressure groups.
The third article dealt with $100 million a year to compel Congress to change grossly unfair, unnecessary, and inefficient tax laws (see: Go for Big Time Tax Reform 3/11/2022).
Now I propose that the fourth $100 million a year be used to take control of the huge amorphous federal budget. Shining the sunlight on Congress’ budget shenanigans is the first step to making it reflect public priorities and needs instead of corporate greed.
Start with the first “twist” (Jefferson’s word) of Article I, Section 7, Clause 1, of the Constitution, which states: “All bills to raise revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; …” Congress made it a formality.
The reality is that the budgets come from the Presidential Office of Management and Budget (OMB), after it receives the budgets prepared by federal departments and agencies.
Until the 1920s, Congress received these various budgets directly, and congressional committees conducted a double check – a sequence of authorizing spending, then allocating funds. In most cases, unlike decades past, the authorization process that triggered this double check is usually ignored. Today, credit hearings are little more than superficial – with a few exceptions.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees reviewed the respective budgets line by line. No more. Now the White House sends Congress an annual budget of thousands of pages, corrupted by corporate lobbyists. Then the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader, after great delays and behind-the-scenes deals, signal their deals and push the budget through the legislative process. During the delays, Democrats and Republicans pass Continuing Resolutions (CRs) to fund the government.
It got so bad that since 1997 the Pentagon has been asking for a ton of money under the name of a “Foreign Emergency Operations Transfer Fund” – essentially a slush fund for wars in general. Year after year, from the time of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (2001-2003), requests for $50 billion or more at a time would simply go to Congress, without review, and be denied. , producing a blank check for the Department of Defense. .
President Obama launched a war on Libya by taking inappropriate money from these dark Pentagon money pots. President Trump also spent money illegally on the wall and for other purposes.
At every moment, a powerful group knows what is happening. Commercial corporate lawyers and other influence peddlers operate inside the budget process and lobby for their demands for special budget favors and covertly insert loophole legislative language. People back home often have no idea of this subterfuge and become cynical because they feel helpless about what is being done with their money.
More and more of these huge expenditures are not being paid for by tax revenues. They add to the growing deficits of our children and grandchildren. This form of “child abuse” allows billionaires to pay an average of only 8% in federal taxes and giant, profitable corporations pay less or no federal income taxes at all. It’s one of the reasons the super-rich loved Trump.
With a federal budget of $5.3 trillion, it is important to separate the so-called “discretionary” operating budget – for running government – from the “non-discretionary” budget for social insurance, for programs such as social security and health insurance.
It’s the operating budgets that spend billions of dollars without public scrutiny, strict standards, and proper congressional oversight — except for the oft-ignored reports from Congress’s Government Accountability Office (GAO). Increasingly, the public budget is under the allocative power of federal bureaucrats who are beleaguered by corporate lobbyists.
In 1990, Congress attempted to require auditable annual budgets from every department. Only the largest operating budget — that of the Pentagon — has violated this requirement every year, despite promises from US defense secretaries to comply. He didn’t send in a verifiable budget because no one knows where all the DOD money is going. Budget watchdogs, however, know that much of the DOD budget is spread around the world with warehouses of uninventoried supplies, cargo planes of $100 bills to grease or bribe influential people, and to pay the staggering overcharges of the insatiable manufacturers of military and other ammunition. contractors.
Amid all these Niagaras of budgeted money, there are very few citizen groups that investigate, monitor, and pressure Congress to represent the public interest. The closest are the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which is mostly an excellent think tank critically analyzing budget allocations for national social service programs, and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a nonprofit organization. that investigates and exposes government waste.
One hundred million dollars a year could free up legions of lawyers, accountants and other knowledgeable people working in government to challenge the status quo and the excesses of executive branch agencies. Handy fruits are truly everywhere and available for picking. Failures of the structural budget process would require extensive overhaul legislation to wake up Congress and hold its members electorally accountable.
People at home don’t get the outrageous facts. Remember how the Pentagon was shaken when it was caught paying $435 for a simple claw hammer that its corporate supplier brazenly described as a “one-way impact generator.” Public outrage fueled by denunciations reaching citizens could be organized to turn members of Congress upside down.
Unfortunately, surges of outrage can only be converted into a grassroots movement by (polls show) left/right alliances of Americans uniting against combinations of unbridled waste, greed and power, who aspire huge revenues that could be used to rebuild America. With organizers in each of the 435 congressional districts bringing together small (say 500 people in each district) who are informed and determined, real change will happen.
From every angle, the shadowy federal budget is broken, looted, and steeped in grotesque, often criminal payments. Addressing such indefensible breaches of public trust through skillful civic action would fill the near void that exists today. There isn’t one full time individual citizen pushing for an auditable Pentagon budget as required by law. Faced with such widespread inaction, there is no other solution than to go up!