This vote was on an amendment by Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that would have rescinded (taken back) unspent funding available at the end of fiscal year 2009 that had not been spent for the prior two years. The amendment was offered to a bill that would increase the statutory debt limit by $1.9 trillion to $14.29 trillion.
Coburn said in 2009 federal agencies ended the fiscal year with $657 billion in unspent balances, approximately $100 billion of which has “been sitting for two years or longer.”
“So we have $100 billion sitting out there that the agencies have not been able to spend. Obviously, if they haven’t been able to spend it in the last 2 years, it is not a priority. If, in fact, we rescind that money to the Treasury, we will cut our deficit $100 billion, and then we can reappropriate what is necessary for this year. The rule in the Federal Government is after 2 years it is supposed to go back to the Treasury anyway, which is not being enforced for everybody except the Treasury Department,” Coburn said.
Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, called Coburn’s amendment “very serious” and potentially “damaging.” He noted that often Congress appropriates spending for long-term projects that would be affected by the amendment.
“It says, very simply, if the funds are not obligated for 2 years, then it is rescinded. It sounds reasonable, but I think it is no secret it takes longer than 2 years to build a battleship. It takes more than 2 years to build an aircraft carrier. It takes more than 2 years to build a hospital. Right now, there are 43 VA hospitals being built. Are we going to cut them out? What about the shipbuilding industry? Are we going to rescind that? This amendment has potentially very dangerous consequences,” Inouye said.
By a vote of 37-57, the amendment was rejected. All but three Republicans present voted for the amendment. All but two Democrats present voted against the amendment. The end result is that the measure went forward without language that would have taken back all unspent money in fiscal 2009 that had been unspent for at least the prior two years, and returned the money to the general treasury.