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Guest Post by Congressman Paul Gosar 

There is a saying that a government allowed to ignore laws when there is a public emergency will look for every opportunity to declare an emergency. By declaring an emergency, many laws that would otherwise apply are waived, making fraud and opacity the driving forces, not transparency and good government.

Last week, the Cato Institute issued a sobering policy analysis, noting that Congress has designated $12 trillion in spending for national emergencies over the past 30 years, or fully one-third of America’s towering $34 national debt. Curbing America’s federal emergency spending is a sure way to restore fiscal responsibility, yet Congress seldom holds the federal government accountable despite current law requiring the President to report national emergency spending to Congress every six months and no later than ninety days after the termination of a national emergency.

Cato’s analysis illustrates what I have been saying for years: Show me the money! Congress has a responsibility to track every emergency dollar allocated and shed light on how taxpayer dollars are spent or not spent during national emergencies. Yet it seldom, if ever, does. Worse, emergency spending programs occur outside the annual appropriations bills, meaning they evade spending limits and have no pay-fors or spending offsets. The spending is just added to the annual deficit and, as Cato points out, becomes a significant contributor to our national debt.

In its analysis, Cato ominously notes that “Congress is increasingly abusing emergency designations, which were originally intended to provide a safety valve for responding to urgent and unexpected crises.” In fact, Congress and the administration seem intent on designating everything a national spending emergency. There are war emergencies, recession emergencies, pandemic emergencies, terrorism emergencies, disaster emergencies, and climate emergencies.

The list goes on and on. These emergency designations allow additional spending to occur outside of budget limits established annually by Congress. The result? Inflation, higher interest rates, devaluation of the dollar, lower economic growth, unemployment, and downgraded credit ratings. The American people bear these burdens in the form of lower wages, depressed savings and retirement plans, and higher prices for just about everything.

For good reason, Americans have little trust in the government’s ability to manage its finances. That’s because Congress, with few exceptions, has not taken steps to reduce emergency spending abuses by demanding transparency and accountability on how those dollars are being spent and sometimes wasted. Instead, Cato’s analysis notes that Congress, for the past 30 years, has rubber-stamped nearly all requests for emergency spending and has failed to expose “just how ridiculous some of the most egregious emergency designations truly are.” In fact, I was the first and only Member of Congress to ever successfully terminate a national emergency (the COVID-19 national emergency) declared pursuant to the National Emergencies Act. Prior to this termination last year, it had never happened before.

Emergency spending reforms are greatly needed, and Congress can begin by taking up H.R. 4615, the National Emergency Expenditure Reporting Transparency Act, legislation I introduced that tightens the reporting requirements related to spending during national emergencies by requiring federal agencies to provide detailed public reports related to emergency expenditures.

As Cato points out, current emergency spending requirements are complicated, easily ignored, and difficult to trace. I’m proud that in its analysis, Cato notes that my bill provides much-needed transparency and is a “big step in the right direction” towards curtailing executive emergency spending abuses. For example, Joe Biden has yet to produce one expenditure report related to the COVID-19 national emergency. My legislation would withhold federal funding from agencies for failing to comply with the periodic reporting requirements.

I urge Congress to immediately take up my National Emergency Expenditure Reporting Transparency Act. By taking steps to reform emergency spending and demonstrating a commitment to fiscal responsibility, Congress can reassure the American public that it is taking the national debt seriously and is working to address the problem.

Paul Gosar is an America First Congressman representing Arizona’s 9th Congressional District.