Citizens Against Government Waste this year is marking its second annual celebration of Festivus to acknowledge the disappointments and successes for taxpayers in 2005.
In the sitcom “Seinfeld,” Festivus is a fictional holiday invented by Frank Costanza (George’s father) to protest the commercialization of other December holidays. The Festivus dinner begins with the Airing of Grievances, where the celebrant tells family and friends all the ways they have disappointed him or her over the past year.
Similarly, CAGW will now tell politicians all they ways they have disappointed taxpayers over the past year. Festivus is not considered over until the head of the family has been pinned by another participant in the Feats of Strength. Likewise, CAGW will end Festivus by recognizing the times taxpayers triumphed over Washington’s big spenders.
The Airing of Grievances
Record Year for Pork: CAGW’s “2005 Congressional Pig Book” identified 13,997 pork projects in the fiscal 2005 appropriations bills costing taxpayers $27.3 billion, an increase of 31 percent over fiscal 2004. Examples include $100,000 for the Tiger Woods Foundation and $75,000 for the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame.
Highway bill: The $286.5 billion Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (H.R. 3) contained more than 6,300 pork projects costing more than $24 billion, including money for horse trails, parks, and museums. After accounting for budget gimmicks, Congress exceeded the President’s original budget cap by $39 billion.
FEMA and Louisiana government officials: Following the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, a continuing lack of accountability and poor oversight have allowed waste, fraud, and abuse to infect recovery efforts. Questionable expenses so far include $236 million for a six-month contract with Carnival Cruise Lines to house storm victims, $39 million for portable classrooms in Mississippi, and paying an average of $2,480 to cover damaged roofs with blue tarps.
Feats of Strength
BRAC: The 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process was a milestone for military transformation — the most aggressive round ever, affecting more than 800 installations and saving taxpayers nearly $35.6 billion over the next 20 years. The process survived multiple votes by narrow margins as members from both parties tried to sabotage the process to prevent closures in their home districts and states.
Budget Reconciliation: Fiscal conservatives in the House successfully challenged Republican leadership and raised the savings target from $35 billion to $50 billion in the first budget reconciliation in seven years. The House approved a $49.9 billion spending reduction (H.R. 4241), while the Senate passed a $35 billion reduction (S. 1932). The conference report achieves $39.7 billion in savings. Entitlement spending is set to explode with the retirement of the baby boomers, nearly doubling over the next decade alone.
Pork-Free Spending Bill: The $142.5 billion fiscal 2006 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations conference report passed both the House and the Senate without any earmarks. Labor/HHS Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is responsible for removing the earmarks from the Senate version. Last year, the bill contained 3,071 projects totaling $1.69 billion. The conference report now awaits the President’s signature.