Gimmick Alert: Congress Considering Increasing Spending Through Harbor Maintenance Maneuver

Having already used the war spending designation and fake mandatory savings to get around discretionary spending caps, lawmakers are turning to another gimmick: shifting harbor maintenance spending outside of the caps. Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) is seeking to classify nearly $2 billion of annual spending from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund as exempt from the caps. This would free up an equal amount of spending under the caps, which would further add to the deficit if it is not offset.

The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund includes a tax on imported goods that funds operations and maintenance for harbors across the country. The trust fund has been accumulating surpluses in recent years, so moving trust fund spending from under the caps would allow the trust fund to spend money as it comes in rather than having its spending subject to the annual appropriations process.

However, this move would free up nearly $2 billion of spending per year under the discretionary caps that could be filled in with other spending. Therefore, if this move isn't done in combination with reducing the caps or including offsets for this spending, it would add to the deficit.

Lawmakers should resist yet another move to get around the spending caps or at least include real and sustained offsets for the additional spending this move would create. Further gaming of the spending caps would just be another sign of our broken budget process.