Don’t Let Unspent Covid Funds Become Slush Funds

Clawing these appropriations back would reduce the deficit and give power back to Congress.

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The House has passed the Limit, Save, Grow Act, which would raise the debt limit for a year in exchange for deficit-relief measures. One of those measures—recovering billions of dollars of approved but unspent Covid-19 relief funds—shouldn’t be controversial. The official public-health emergency ends Thursday. The actual emergency has been over for a long time. But some lawmakers want to use the money as a slush fund.

Congress appropriated $4.6 trillion for pandemic response and recovery in six Covid-19 relief laws enacted between March 2020 and March 2021. More than two years later, $444 billion of the total remains unspent. More than $114 billion hasn’t even been “obligated,” or committed to pay for goods and services ordered or received. Of this amount, $90.5 billion remains available for obligation and $23.7 billion has expired, meaning that it can’t be used to incur new obligations.

Section 201 of the House bill calls for the rescission—permanent cancellation—of these unobligated balances. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, objects and has produced an eight-page list of projects she says wouldn’t be funded if the unobligated balances are rescinded.

Undoubtedly, some of these projects are worthwhile, but Ms. DeLauro’s catalog raises a big question: Why, more than two years after the money was appropriated, hasn’t it been spent on these presumably valuable projects?

Bureaucratic agencies never return unused funds. They always spend them regardless of the merits. If these unobligated funds, which agencies haven’t found worthwhile uses for in more than two years, stay with the agencies, they will be obligated and spent.

The funds should be returned to the Treasury. That would reduce the deficit and restore decision-making authority to Congress. If future projects are truly valuable, lawmakers should fund them.

Read the full article at The Wall Street Journal.