Pork-Barrel Spending Abandons Republican Principles

One of the strongest reasons for President Bush’s tax cuts was his prescient warning that if Congress did not let taxpayers keep more of their own money, lawmakers would spend it.

Besides the powerful stimulus effect that the tax cuts have had on the economy, consumer spending and new business investment, Bush’s $1.7 trillion in tax reductions was also a massive government spending cut, too. That’s $1.7 trillion Congress will not be able to spend during this decade on wasteful boondoggles.

If you have any doubt about this, look at the 1,182-page, House-passed omnibus bill that wrapped up $328 billion in unpassed appropriations before Congress adjourned for the year. It is larded with pork — spending provisions that no House and Senate committee has approved, no federal agency has requested and the administration did not want.

In the corrupt, “I’m going to get mine no matter what the cost” world of pork-barrel spending, members of Congress slip such provisions into bills to do special favors for special interests back home, in effect to buy votes with other people’s money. Last year’s omnibus bill contained 7,651 pork-filled projects that totaled $11.5 billion.

This year’s catch-all bill, which passed the House this week by a vote of 242-176, contains roughly the same number of earmarked items that will cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Here are some of them:

  • $2 million for The First Tee Program in St. Augustine, Fla., to help young people learn to play golf.
  • $1.8 million for the Appalachian fruit laboratory in Kearneysville, W.Va.
  • $447,000 for a halibut data collection program in Alaska.
  • $270,000 for potato storage in Madison, Wis.
  • $325,000 for the construction of a swimming pool in Salinas, Calif.
  • $500,000 for the Pete Suazo Business Center to purchase additional building space.
  • $250,000 for something called the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser, Wash.
  • $50 million sought by Republican Sen. Charles Grasssley of Iowa to build a $200 million indoor exhibit about the rain forest. Grassley first tried to stick this into the energy bill but was blocked from doing so.
  • $12.4 million to convert waste from chicken-processing factories in Missouri.
  • $6,000 for the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in Utica, N.Y.
  • $400,000 for the Speed Art Museum in Louisville and for a replica of a mule barn in LaSalle, Ill.

    Longtime budget watchers and critics of wasteful spending who have railed against this kind of legal stealing say that the practice is worse than it has ever been.

    “This bill,” writes Steve Ellis, Vice President of the budget watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, “includes thousands of frivolous, bizarre and special interest earmarks for every congressional district in the nation. From making baby food out of salmon to swimming pools in Nevada and California, this spending bill has something for almost everyone — YMCAs, museums, county libraries, ballet schools.”

    There is plenty of blame to go around in both parties — 184 Republicans and 58 Democrats voted for the bill. An outraged Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona said he was disgusted by his fellow Republicans, who will return home to rail against deficit spending even though most of them are perpetrators. “We as Republicans have exploded the number of earmarks. We seem to have no shame,” he said.

    Thankfully, it appears that this monstrosity won’t be enacted this month because Democrat Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia said he will object to it being brought up for a final vote. The Senate is run under a unanimous consent rule that allows any senator to block legislation and not enough members are in town this week (60 votes are needed) to override Byrd’s objection. That means delaying the bill until Congress returns in late January and letting the government operate under a temporary “continuing resolution” that permits departments to continue spending at present levels.

    Of course most of the non-defense spending in this bill, which combines seven appropriations bills into one, is for legitimate programs — everything from veterans benefits, education funding, health care, foreign aid and the space program, such as it is.

    Veterans alone will get a nearly $3 billion increase in spending, said to be its largest one-year increase ever. Indeed, if there is a special interest group that is not rewarded in this bill, it is hard to see where.

    With a practiced political eye on next year’s congressional elections, the GOP’s spending strategy is simply to “leave no political constituency behind.”

    No lawmaker ever lost an election because they voted to spend too much money. But, over time, Republicans may lose much of their political base of support if they abandon party principles — in this case, limited government.

    The mountain of pork in the House-passed omnibus spending bill is a shameful and irresponsible example of unbridled excess and greed. It is another reason why we must cut taxes further to let workers keep more of what they earn, because if we don’t, Congress will continue to spend and waste more money than we can afford.

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