The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

House Budget Committee Hearing on Unauthorized Programs and Mandatory Spending

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


On June 9, 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on the Budget held a hearing titled, “The Need to Control Automatic Spending and Unauthorized Programs.”  The witnesses included:  the Honorable David Walker, former Comptroller General to the United States; Stuart Butler, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute; and Lily Batchelder, a professor of public policy at the New York University School of Law. 

Acting Chairman Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), in his opening statement, stated that the purpose of the hearing was to determine what changes needed to be made to address the unauthorized (and unsustainable) spending in the federal government.  In a plea with his fellow committee members, Rokita called the solving of this financial crisis a “moral obligation to those we represent.” 

In his testimony, former Comptroller General Walker said that “while our annual deficits have declined, the key drivers of our debt have not been addressed.”  Rather than a balanced budget, Walker suggested to the members that debt be measured as a percentage of total gross domestic product (GDP) rather than as a lump sum because debt, in it itself, does not have a negative impact on the economy. 

Following Mr. Walker’s testimony, Lily Batchelder voiced her opinion that any effort to control automatic spending should include reforms and elimination of some tax expenditures.  Her claim that tax expenditures, which have increasingly grown over the years, faced rebuttal from several members.  One member asked whether she really considered charitable contributions, one of the many types of tax expenditures, to be government spending.  The concluding the witness, Stuart Butler, asserted that many government programs are on “auto-pilot” and face little to no examination by Congress.  He suggested that Congress should not just pass a budget, but pass one that lasted longer than a year.  He added that biennial budgeting would be an effective tool.

Acting Chairman Rokita was correct in saying that there is a moral obligation to find a solution to tackle the alarming public debt in the United State; hopefully the members in attendance will consider the suggestions offered by the expert witnesses and offer new, fiscally responsible, and sustainable solutions. 

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