COVID Costs: $500 Billion in Discretionary Appropriations (And Counting)

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which has found it difficult to analyze new spending legislation day-to-day while its staff work from home, finally updated the fiscal 2020 discretionary appropriations summary tables last week to give a detailed total of just how much authority to spend money Congress has granted this year.

By comparing the new totals to the January 2020 totals (which I helpfully saved on my hard drive before CBO pulled it from the website), we can isolate the cost of the coronavirus-related emergency spending enacted since March 1 from the emergency spending enacted prior to March 1 (mostly some hurricane-related stuff and some items in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement implementing bill).

The emergency discretionary appropriations contained in the four coronavirus-related bills enacted into law so far total $502 billion, of which $48.5 billion is under the Transportation-HUD Subcommittee.

“Regular,” or “base,” appropriations subject to the Budget Control Act spending caps still total $1.288 trillion ($666.5 billion in the defense category and $621.5 billion in the non-defense category). Then a series of “cap adjustment” (special purpose work-arounds) add another $103.6 billion, and the non-COVID emergencies added another $9.4 billion. Finally, $567 million in appropriations for opioid treatment under the CURES Act are not scored at all per the terms of that law.

In total, $1.905 trillion in discretionary appropriations have been enacted so far for fiscal year 2020.

The $502 billion in discretionary appropriations for coronavirus is in addition to the estimated 10-year cost of $1.405 trillion for mandatory spending changes in the coronavirus relief bills and an estimated $502 billion in reduced tax receipts from those same bills (the latter is a $38 billion reduction from the original estimate). And this doesn’t count around $900 billion in new federal loans authorized by those bills which are expected to be repaid (eventually) and thus don’t count towards federal deficit calculations.

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