Even as Congress adjourns for a week-long Memorial Day recess without extending unemployment benefits, it concludes a three-month spending spree that has added more than $230 billion to the national debt, most of it classified as "emergency" spending.
The spending spree ranges from such big ticket items as $33 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to such little-noticed provisions as a $54 million tax break for TV and movie production.
Webster's dictionary defines emergency as "an unforeseen combination of circumstances." On Capitol Hill, "emergency" seems to carry a different definition: Stuff you don't need to pay for.
It's an important distinction, because in February President Obama signed into law the Pay As You Go Act, which requires Congress to offset new spending with cuts to existing programs or tax increases.
"It's pretty simple," Obama explained shortly after signing the bill. "It says to Congress you have to pay as you go. You can't spend a dollar unless you cut a dollar elsewhere. This is how a responsible family or business manages a budget. And this is how a responsible government manages a budget, as well."
But emergency spending is exempted and does not need to be offset. The emergencies Congress has funded since President Obama signed the Pay As You Go Act include:
- $20 billion for highway construction
- $54 million for tax breaks for TV and movie production
- $67 million in payments to Filipino World War II vets
- $15 million in aid to the Congo
The emergency spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also came with a $174,000 death gratuity payment to Joyce Murtha, widow of Rep. John Murtha, who died Feb. 8. Such death payments -- equal to one year of congressional salary -- are typically given to the spouse's of members of Congress who die in office.
National Debt Clock Ticks Up to More Than $13 Trillion
A spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee said the Murtha payment was included in the war funding bill because it was the first appropriations bill to pass the House after Murtha's death.
This week, the national debt clock ticked up to more than $13 trillion, news that some congressional Republicans call alarming.
The debt has risen under both Republican and Democratic leaders, doubling in the last decade alone. Currently, it averages to more than $42,000 per person, according to USdebtclock.org.
It took the federal government 206 years to hit the first trillion dollars in debt. To go from $12 trillion to $13 trillion, it took a little more than six months.