Lankford amendment targets budget gimmick

Sen. James Lankford

Sen. James Lankford

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today offered an Appropriations amendment to eliminate a commonly-used budget gimmick with the Crime Victims Fund (CVF). Specifically, the amendment was offered during today’s Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science markup hearing to change the way that the Congressional Budget Office scores the CVF obligation limitations in future years, which would prevent a gimmick that allows for the same resources to be used as ‘new’ offsets for other programs year after year. This proposal was also included in Lankford’s government waste report released in November 2015 entitled, “Federal Fumbles: 100 ways the government dropped the ball” (page 76).

“Congress should stop trying to trick the American people through dishonest budgetary practices,” said Lankford. “The Crime Victims Fund should be used to support victims of crime without being raided annually to cover spending somewhere else. My amendment would prohibit a budget gimmick that allows for the same resources to be used as fake offsets for other federal programs. My amendment would also ensure reliable funding for this important program to help crime victims. Although my amendment did not pass, I remain hopeful that we can eliminate this practice in the near future.”

JamesLankford4Congress created the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) in 1984 to receive deposits from criminal fines to fund grants to victims’ service groups such as child advocacy centers, domestic violence shelters, and rape crisis centers. The CVF was based on the idea that the money collected from people who commit crimes should be used to assist victims. Instead of supporting crime victims, the CVF has been used to support out-of-control congressional spending habits through an obscure budgetary trick called changes in mandatory programs, or “CHIMPS.” In an accounting gimmick, CVF CHIMPS allow for Congress to spend the exact same money more than ten times over.

In 2000, Congress set a cap on funds that can be spent from CVF in a single year. Any funds that have been deposited in CVF above that spending cap must remain in CVF to be used in future fiscal years. Since 2000, the receipts coming into CVF have outpaced spending that is subject to the annual cap. Thus, the CVF account has grown to more than $12 billion.

GovSpending1Due to poorly conceived budget scorekeeping methods, the difference between the cap on spending from the CVF in a year and the total funds remaining in the CVF is considered “savings” that can be used to offset spending elsewhere. The theory is that if Congress spends $3 billion from a fund that has $12 billion available, then the federal government has saved $9 billion.

In reality, not spending the same $9 billion year after year does not save money at all. Yet, with this fuzzy congressional math, Congress uses the same $9 billion to justify nearly $100 billion in new spending over 10 years.

Lankford’s amendment failed by a vote of 4-26.