We will get an idea just how disciplined the Congress is in coming weeks on the budget, as lawmakers consider a new supplemental spending bill requested by the White House for earthquake relief in Haiti.
The Obama Administration is asking for $2.8 billion to help with ongoing disaster efforts in that Caribbean nation, responding to the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in January.
"This request responds to urgent and essential needs," wrote President Obama in a letter sent to Congressional leaders last week. "Therefore, I request these proposals be considered as emergency requirements."
Let me translate that for you: "Therefore, I request that these amount of money needed for these proposals not be paid for, with the cost of the bill simply added to the deficit."
That's what "emergency" spending means in the Congress. It doesn't go on the yearly deficit figure, but it does get added to the overall federal debt.
Yes, you read that right. If I declare $100 billion in spending as an "emergency" - the yearly deficit does not go up - but the $100 billion does get added to the overall debt.
There will be two things to watch for on this legislation - how much more is added on by lawmakers for items that don't have any link to Haiti, and whether any of it gets paid for by offsetting budget cuts in other areas of the federal government.
Military supplementals like these aren't usually paid for with other cuts, that's obvious from all the supplemental spending bills through the years dealing with disaster aid, Iraq, Afghanistan and much more. Democrats and Republicans alike have voted for those with no offsetting budget reductions - the extra spending simply gets added to the federal debt.
As for the issue of the ole Legislative Christmas Tree, that is another thing to keep an eye on, as lawmakers look for a legislative vehicle to add on projects near and dear to their hearts.
Last week Democrats in the House approved a $5.1 billion emergency disaster bill to pump more money into FEMA. While there weren't any pork barrel items attached to that bill, the Democrats did add on a $600 million Summer Youth Jobs initiative, along with $60 million for a small business loan program.
And the $5.1 billion disaster aid had the necessary verbiage to keep it "off budget".
"EMERGENCY DESIGNATION - SEC. 102. Each amount in this Act is designated as an emergency requirement and necessary to meet emergency needs pursuant to sections 403 and 423(b) of S. Con. Res. 13 (111th Congress), the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2010."
In other words, the cost does not have to be offset.
We'll see if that bill gets added onto the Haiti Supplemental in the Senate, along with a few other things.