The U.S. government spent over $332 billion on programs that either expired or were never reauthorized by Congress. According to a report from the Congressional Budget Office, 1,046 expired federal programs received funding in 2020.
While some of the programs are obscure, such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Legal Services Corporation, and the United States Institute of Peace, other agencies such as the State Department, the FBI, and the ATF have not been reauthorized by Congress. Some of these so-called "zombie programs" date back to the 1970s, according to Americans for Tax Reform.
The agencies and programs are able to keep operating because courts have ruled that they do not need Congressional authorization to receive funding. This has allowed lawmakers to skip the process while ensuring that the government programs and agencies continue to function.
"Imagine if Congress had to reauthorize FEC," Allen Schick, a professor at the University of Maryland, explained to Politico. "Should they be in the business of it? Should there be limits on campaign finance? Is it too politicized? What kinds of limits? What about super PACs? The list is endless. The better part of discretion is to do nothing."
Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has introduced a bill that would slowly defund programs that have not been reauthorized by Congress. Under the USA Act, which was first introduced in 2016, unauthorized programs would see their budgets cut 90% of their previous budget. If Congress fails to authorize the program for a second year, its budget would be reduced by an additional 85%. After three years, the funding for an unauthorized program would be cut to zero.
"The USA Act is simple — it makes sure that every penny of taxpayer money is subject to the scrutiny of the American people who are footing the bill. It means effectively reviewing, rethinking, and possibly eliminating programs that are no longer needed. It's time for Congress to restore the power of the purse and end unauthorized spending," Rodgers said in a statement.
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