August 4, 2011

The Never-ending Emergency

Trends in Supplemental Spending
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Rarely does a fiscal year pass without some type of emergency requiring a response from the federal government.  When disaster strikes, lawmakers need prompt access to emergency federal funds.  In some instances, emergency spending is enacted as part of regular appropriations measures.  However, in most cases the timing is such that the need for funding cannot wait until the next appropriations cycle.  As a result, most supplemental appropriations are enacted as stand-alone legislation.  For instance, supplemental bills are often used to cover unexpected costs due to natural disaster or war.  It should be noted, however that that these bills are a normal part of the appropriations process and have been used in the federal spending process since the second session of the very first U.S. congress in 1790.

Recently, however, serious concerns have emerged about the nature and size of supplemental appropriations bills and in particular about the abuse of emergency spending.