U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte sees a lot of pork in the Hurricane Sandy relief bill, which became law Jan. 28. And, to hear her tell it, there isn’t enough dough around to support it.
Ayotte, New Hampshire’s junior senator, voted against the bill last month, citing the amount of non-emergency funding included in the proposal for other projects.
"When total Sandy spending is added up, it's more than the annual budget for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. And it's more than twice the annual budget of the U.S. Energy Department," Ayotte wrote Wednesday in an opinion piece, explaining her vote in a piece titled "Sandy Relief Bill Became an Excuse for Spending Spree."
"Without question we should help Hurricane Sandy victims with emergency relief legislation," she wrote. "But the days of using a crisis to pass bloated bills stuffed with non-emergency spending further burying us in debt must end."
Throughout her column, Ayotte targeted the Sandy relief bill for including billions in non-emergency spending, like $2 million for roof repairs at the Smithsonian in Washington, $4 million for the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, $50 million for the National Park Service and $16 billion that can be used in 47 states for past and future events from 2011 through 2013.
But, for this analysis, we’re going to focus on the total Sandy spending that Ayotte cited.
Ayotte pegged total Sandy spending at roughly $60 billion, which includes the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act and H.R. 41, a bill that passed Congress earlier in the month.
The Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, which passed the House and the Senate in January on the way to the president’s desk, contains two levels of funding. One level, known as "outlays," is expected to reach $49.2 billion between 2013-2021, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office. The other is "budget authority," the total spending allowed by Congress, which would cap at $50.5 billion during that time, according to the CBO.
Meanwhile, H.R. 41 added $9.7 billion to the national flood insurance fund. Combined, this sets the total Sandy spending between $58.9 and $60.2 billion. So, Ayotte’s total figure is accurate.
Now, let’s compare those totals to the Homeland Security and Energy budgets.
The Homeland Security budget can be looked at three ways:
$60.4 billion in outlays in Fiscal Year 2012, (White House records)
$47.7 billion in budget authority for FY 2012 (White House)
$47.4 billion in actual spending for FY 2012 (Treasury records)
To review, Ayotte claimed the $60.2 billion in Sandy Relief was more than the Department of Homeland Security’s annual budget.
By two measures she’s right and by the third, she’s very, very close.
Ayotte’s office said she was referring to the federal budget authority figures when she made the statement. Those typically reflect the total amount that can be spent in a given year.
But several economists, considered both liberal and conservative, suggested that outlays, which can sometimes be higher than budget authority figures, are the better measure because they show how much actually will be spent in a given year.
"In general, outlays are a better measure because they tell you how much the Congressional Budget Office (the official scorekeeper for Congress) says will actually go out the door in a given year," Ron Haskins, a senior economic fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote in an email to The Telegraph.
Now, moving on to the energy department, which has a similar budget breakdown.
$39 billion in outlays for Fiscal Year 2012 (White House)
$22.8 billion in budget authority for FY 2012 (White House)
$32.5 billion in actual spending for FY 2012 (Treasury)
Ayotte said Sandy relief spending was more than twice the energy department’s budget. When the department’s figures are multiplied by two, she’s correct only when looking at the budget authority figure.
It’s also worth noting that Ayotte chose to compare Sandy relief spending, which will be spread over the next eight years, to the annual department budgets, which reflect only one year of spending.
Ayotte may have strong feelings about the spending levels included in the Sandy relief bills, but in this case, the numbers don’t always add up the way Ayotte would like.
Looking at the Homeland Security department, the FY2012 budget ($60.4 billion) is roughly equal to the Sandy total ($60.2 billion), and both the budget authority ($47.7 billion) and the actual amount spent ($47.4 billion) are less, so Ayotte is right in that regard.
But, the Energy budget tells a different story. In 2012, department officials operated on a budget authority of $22.8 billion -- less than half the Sandy total. But, they also estimated $39 billion in department outlays, and records show they ended up spending $32.5 billion. Doubled, both of those numbers exceed the Sandy spending, meaning on this part, Ayotte is off target.
Ayotte said she was referring to budget authority figures, and she's right on that count. By other measures, she's either very close or not accurate. We rate her claim Mostly True.