Each dollar spent on pork-barrel projects is one less dollar that can be devoted to the War on Terror. This inescapable fact somehow has escaped members of Congress. While senators and representatives swiftly and wisely approved $40 billion in recovery and defense funds after the September 11 Massacre, they quickly relapsed into old habits. Congress again is spending money as recklessly and foolishly as it did on September 10.
Even as U.S. warships steam toward the Persian Gulf, Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington-based fiscal watchdog group, has calculated in military terms the opportunity cost of business as usual.
Sidewinder missiles sell for $41,300 each, CAGW reports. Tomahawk Cruise Missiles are $1 million a piece while one F-15 fighter jet costs $15 million. Pork projects chew right through cash that could purchase these and other weapons the Pentagon will need to crush the international terror network and its state sponsors.
For instance, on September 13, the Senate adopted the Fiscal Year 2002 Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary Appropriations Bill. Consider just several items the Senate approved while the Pentagon and Ground Zero still smoldered:
$2 million for the Oregon Groundfish Outreach Program and $850,000 for Chesapeake Bay Oyster Research.
Cost: 69 Sidewinders.
$6 million for the National Infrastructure Institute in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Cost: Six Cruise Missiles.
$204 million for the Advanced Technology Program, a quintessential corporate welfare boondoggle, for which the Bush Administration requested only $13 million.
Cost: Thirteen F-15 fighters.
Even more maddening is a brand-new bill to expand farm subsidies one year before the existing spending plan expires. The Farm Security Act would increase agricultural pork by $73.1 billion over the next 10 years. Added to the $96.9 billion budget baseline, Uncle Sam would plow $170 billion into the ground through 2011.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R., Tex.) distributed a September 27 “Dear Colleague” letter that promotes this extravagance in stunningly selfish terms. “What’s in it for me?” the note asks in bold letters. “The 2001 Farm Bill: From Buffalo, Kansas to Buffalo, New York, there is something for everyone.”
Indeed, there is. This bill authorizes $101 million for honey producers. The once-terminated wool and mohair program rises again, $202 million strong. Peanut farmers can expect $3.48 billion. This bill also would revive $37.1 billion in “counter-cyclical assistance” which was scrapped in 1996.
The U.S. Agriculture Department released a study last month that describes these subsidies as spectacularly wasteful and fundamentally unfair. Forty-seven percent of agricultural payments go to commercial farms with average household incomes of $135,397, more than two and a half times the average American household’s $51,855 in earnings. According to the Associated Press, just 10 percent of farm owners shared 63 percent of last year’s $27 billion in federal agriculture payments. Media tycoon Ted Turner received farm aid, as did Portland Trailblazer Scottie Pippen. Modestly-paid waitresses and school bus drivers pay twice for such largesse — first through taxes, then again as agricultural price supports hike their grocery bills.
This situation has enraged Senator Richard Lugar (R., Ind.). “It’s inconceivable that this might be on the House floor next week in the middle of a war,” the Senate Agriculture Committee’s ranking Republican said September 26. He also rejected the notion that passing a farm bill would guarantee civilian and military food security. “Let’s come off of it,” Lugar demanded. “To imply somehow we need a farm bill in order to feed our troops, to defend our nation, is ridiculous…We are producing so much, it is coming up around our ears.”
These legislative hijinks are bad enough in peace time. America is at war. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are kissing their loved ones goodbye and shipping out to face a vicious and bloodthirsty enemy lurking in foreign shadows. Right now, Congress should grow up and stop treating the domestic budget as a political Toys ‘R Us.
Americans already are making huge sacrifices. Weak tourist revenues have lowered the curtains on five Broadway shows. Hotel beds have gone empty as conferences have been canceled, and weddings have been scaled back or postponed. Major U.S. airlines have fired 87,000 employees since terror struck.
Amid such national belt-tightening, it is beyond ugly to watch public servants on Capitol Hill loosen their belts as their pork-laden bellies swell. If the American people must live with less right now, so must their representatives.