Budget Percentages

With the passage of the first continuing resolution, the United States federal government has spending authority until December 11, 2014.

House Joint Resolution 124 (HJR 124) allows Uncle Sam to spend money through the first quarter of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. Instead of going through all of the federal programs one by one and allocating money, HJR 124 mandates that federal programs have their spending levels set at FY14 levels.

Except, that’s not entirely true. Section 101(b) of HJR 124 says that all spending levels for FY15 will be cut by 0.0554 percent of FY14 levels.

Not 1%.

Not even 0.1%.

Congress slashed spending across the board by one-half of 0.1%.

In other words, for every $100 spent, spending has been cut by a nickel. In other other words, for every Ben Franklin bill, subtract a Thomas Jefferson coin.

How does that work in the real life of the federal government? Here are some examples.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate of FY14 spending (here in PDF form), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was authorized to spend $20,880,000,000 (or $20.88 billion for those who like their numbers in words). With the ax wielded by HJR 124, the folks over at 1400 Independence Avenue SW in Washington D.C., now have $11.56 million less to spend in FY15.

The Department of Defense was authorized in FY14 to spend $572,042,000,000 ($572.042 billion…or 27.39 times more than the USDA). Courtesy of HJR 124, the Pentagon now only has $571.725 billion to work with.

And so on down the line.

According to the CBO, discretionary spending for FY14 was set at a level of $1,110,725,000,000 (or $1.110 trillion). Therefore, using a bit of math, the federal government has its FY15 spending authority cut by $615,341,650 and now can only spend $1,110,109,658,350 (or $1.110 trillion).

But how much of this cutting, hacking, and slashing of 0.0054% by Congress actually accomplished anything?

With the start of October, FY14 ended and the CBO has come out with its preliminary look at the fiscal year just passed. According to the CBO Monthly Budget Review for September 2014 (jump to the graph entitled “Total Outlays”), the federal government spent $1.608 trillion on discretionary spending ($578 billion for Defense, $1,030 billion for everything else). However, Uncle Sam spent a grand total of $1.651 trillion on only three programs ($840 billion for Social Security, $509 billion for Medicare, and $302 billion for Medicaid). That $1,651,000,000,000 of mandatory spending – or almost half of all FY14 spending – was untouched by the Congressional ax for FY15.

In fact, those three mandatory programs increased their spending. Once again, according to the CBO, Defense spending shrunk 4.9% from FY13 to FY14. In that same time period, all the other discretionary spending shrunk 2.3%. Meanwhile, over the twelve months from September 2013 to September 2014, Social Security grew 4.6%, Medicare grew 2.7%, and Medicaid grew 13.6%.

All of those figures for mandatory spedning are greater than 0.0554%

Deadlines…Shmeadlines

“Deadlines are meant to be broken. And I just keep breaking them.” – Sara McLachlan

The folks over at the United States Congress are the living embodiment of the above quote.

This current month of September is the last month of Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14), which means it is up to Congress to pass the collection of appropriations bills that will fund the federal government for the next twelve months. For FY15, Congress has to fund eleven bills from Agriculture to Transportation/HUD.

As of this writing, the full Congress (House and Senate) has not passed a single appropriation bill to send to the President for his signature. In fact, the Senate has not even voted on one funding bill. The House, at least, has given their ayes and nays on seven. Congress.gov has the full figures here.

Now, please recall, that appropriating money is one of the functions the United States Constitution gives to legislators (Article I, Section 9, Clause 6 for those who want to refer to the pocket version of the document I’m sure you have on you) so missing the deadline to allocate funds for the start of fiscal year is to akin to you failing to do one of your job’s responsibilities. Not sure how long you would remain employed if you consistently fell short of a mandated deadline.

Now that Congress is back to work (or sort of back to work as I wrote about in this post), one would think that the Representatives and Senators would roll up their sleeves and pass the eleven appropriation bills before September 30 rolls around.

One would be dead wrong.

At least one member of Congress already knows the jig is up and that the legislators will emulate Sara McLachlan and break a deadline (for the umpteenth time). On September 9, the second day back from their August recess, Representative Harold “Hal” Rogers (R, KY) introduced House Joint Resolution 124 which is a continuing resolution, or CR.

This CR from the gentleman from Kentucky would continue to fund the federal government at FY14 levels until December 11, 2014. It’s like he already knew that Congress would not do their duty. Well, he has been in Congress since 1981 so I guess he has some experience in watching those appropriations deadlines be broken.

Back to Work…Sort Of

“Recess is over!”

That was a phrase that would always bring terror into my third-grade heart whenever I heard it on the school playground. There was always one more game to play, one more ball to kick, and one more swing to swing.

I don’t know if this phrase brings dread to the 532 members of the United States Congress, but as of Monday, September 8, those three words are in effect.

(Yes, I know, that there should 535 members of the U.S. Congress, but the House of Representatives has three vacancies courtesy of the empty seats in New Jersey (1st District), North Carolina (12th District), and Virginia (8th District).)

So what is one of the first things the legislators working under the dome of the United States Capitol do after spending nearly the entire month of August away from Washington, D.C. (The House adjourned on August 4; the Senate on August 8)?

They hold a hearing.

This one, held at 10:00am on their first day back, is brought to you by the House Committee on Natural Resources and it deals with the northern long eared bat. Testimony will be heard about the proposal to list the flying mammal as an endangered species and how that designation would affect Pennsylvania and thirty-seven other states. Representatives from power companies, farms, and energy companies will testify.

I wonder which of those invited groups will go to bat for the bats.

Back at the House, the whole gang comes together at 2:00pm (because who likes early meetings on a Monday…oh, apparently the Committee on Natural Resources does). The representatives dispense with the formalities such as the daily prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance in just under two minutes.

The House takes up their first real bit of business at 2:03pm when they officially receive the resignation of Eric Cantor (R, VA) from the House.

Five minutes into the new session, the House breaks into a round of one-minute speeches. The first comes from Frank Wolf (R, VA) who announces he will be introducing two bills “…to address the most pressing national security threat since 9/11, the rapid advances made in ISIS in Iraq and Syria, as well as territorial gains made by al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Libya, Nigeria, and Somalia.”

Lest you think that Representative Wolf’s introduction of legislation meant that perhaps Congress would do some work and maybe back away from verbally attacking the President, the next two speakers would disabuse from that notion. Let the record show that it took Congress under seven minutes to partake in potshots at POTUS rather than deal with unemployment, minimum wages, etc., etc., etc.

Representative Joe Garcia (D, FL) starts the ball with “…the President signaled that he would not move forward on comprehensive immigration reform, and we are deeply disappointed.”

Not satisfied by a mere statement of disappointment, the next speaker, Representative Joe Wilson (R, WI), took to the floor and said, “The President has been negligent for the past 2 1/2 years, as ISIS fought to seize control of the very country we liberated with our dedicated military…”

This goes on until a quarter past two and then the House knuckles down and passes legislation. Ladies and gentlemen of the United States of America, you can stand proud knowing that in their first day back after a grueling summer recess, the United States House of Representatives voted and passed S.231, the Multinational Species Conversation Funds Semipostal Stamp Reauthorization Act of 2013. This august piece of legislation means these types of semipostal stamps can continue to be sold for four more years.

Our long national nightmare is over.

Riding high on a postal wave, the House then went on a binge and, over the next six hours, voted to rename fourteen post offices.

Oh, there was other stuff discussed and more speeches given, and the gavel fell at 8:40pm and Congress called it a day.

While I have written about a great number of numbers (532 members of Congress, five minutes before the Obama sniping began, four more years for the semipostal stamp, fourteen renamed post offices), the number I want to highlight in this post is nineteen. An aspect of our federal legislative body that has always amused me is the amount of time they spend away from their primary workplace. As I wrote above, the House was out from August 4 until September 8 and the Senate was out from August 8. For the People’s Chamber, that means that they were away from the District of Columbia for twenty-three work days. Members of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body were away from the nation’s capital for nineteen (there’s that number) work days.

But wait, there’s more.

After their exhausting schedule of two four-day work weeks (September 8-11 and September 16-19…hey that includes a four-day weekend!), the House takes the following week off before engaging in another grueling four-day work week.

Then they’re away from October 6 until Halloween. That’s a grand nineteen (there’s that number again) work days away from the workplace.

Oh, that can’t honestly be right.

Well, it’s good work if you can get it and avoid it.

Favorite Number

Greetings all and welcome to my latest blog. This will be a departure from my earliest writing incarnations because these musings will have nothing to do with travel. From my thoughts on living in Peru and in Thailand, you can jump on over, respectively, to Sin Polaris or 963 Thai Days.

What I hope to include on this site is just a motley collection of all the other non-travel thoughts that rattle around in my brain. Makes it sound like just about every other blog on the known Net, eh.

And you’re probably right, but care not I as these are my thoughts and not theirs.

So there.

For this inaugural posting, instead of a typical “Hello World” or “Welcome to my latest blog” blathering, I thought I would share with you my favorite number. This thought came to me while listening to the Radiolab podcast put out by WNYC Radio that discussed a worldwide on-line poll to find the globe’s favorite number. The results, by the way, are over here.

I was disheartened, but not surprised, to discover that my personal favorite number did not even crack the top ten.

Just so you know, my favorite number is 336.

Why?

Because that is the number of dimples on a typical golf ball.

That tiny tidbit is the first smattering of trivia I learned at a young age courtesy of a book entitled The Trivia Encylopedia. I’ve never forgotten that factoid and that is why three hundred and thirty-six is my favorite number.

Granted, 336 is not a number that comes up often when picking baseball uniforms, horses, or winning lotto numbers, but it was the gateway number that hooked me on a life of trivia (and ensured that I was always picked first during games of Trivial Pursuit).

So what would your favorite number be and why?