Conservatives target unauthorized programs

Conservatives target unauthorized programs

As several conservative, self term-limited House members from the GOP class of 1994 prepare for their final session in Congress, they are joining forces with their more recently elected colleagues to highlight the budgetary and institutional problem of unauthorized appropriations.

And as Congress struggles this year to find enough spending cuts to overcome the more than $20 billion in advanced fiscal 2001 spending included in the fiscal 2000 spending bills, reining in funds for unauthorized programs may become an attractive option for budget hawks.

According to information prepared by Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who is spearheading the effort on behalf of the 14-member Citizen Legislators Caucus and the Conservative Action Team, Congress provided nearly $101 billion in fiscal 99 for 198 government programs that either have never been authorized or whose authorization has expired. A newly released CBO report shows that in fiscal 2000 appropriations bills, Congress provided funding for 137 unauthorized programs totaling about $120.9 billion. The CBO also reported 49 program authorizations, totaling $293 billion, will expire before the end of fiscal 2000.

Among those fiscal 99 programs, there are 55 that fall under the jurisdiction of the Commerce Committee worth $14 billion; four programs that get a total of $19 billion under the jurisdiction of the Science Committee; 22 programs totaling $14 billion under the Judiciary Committee's jurisdiction; and 20 programs worth $11 billion within the purview of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Tancredo's report, prepared last fall with information provided by the Congressional Research Service, argues that continuing to appropriate money to these unauthorized programs-which rarely are subject to aggressive congressional oversight-amounts to "the deterioration of the power of the authorizing committees and thus the loss of congressional oversight and fiscal responsibility. This also has led to the shift of power away from the legislative branch toward the administration and federal bureaucrats."

To reinvigorate the oversight process and trim spending on unauthorized or expired programs, Tancredo and the Citizen Legislators Caucus-as well as several fiscal conservatives who are not term limited-plan a multi-pronged strategy.

To bring their concerns to the attention of the House and GOP leaders, the group intends to employ a combination of "Dear Colleague" and personal letters, floor speeches and face-to-face meetings, as well as raising the issue at leadership meetings. They also hope to persuade authorizing committees to pass legislation reauthorizing expired programs and encouraged the Rules Committee not to report out rules that waive points of order against appropriating money to unauthorized programs, as is routinely done.

But recognizing that those objectives may be impossible to achieve, Tancredo is calling on caucus members to oppose rules that waive points of order against unauthorized spending, to offer amendments to spending bills striking funds for unauthorized programs and, "if all else fails," to encourage appropriators to limit funding for unauthorized programs to 90 percent of current spending of those programs. "Right now, I just want to get it [the issue] on the radar screen, and the debate started so people recognize there is a problem," Tancredo said. Other members working with Tancredo include Reps. Tom Coburn, R- Okla., Mark Sanford, R-S.C., Pat Toomey, R-Pa., Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., Nick Smith, R-Mich., and Jim DeMint, R-S.C.