Politics & Policy

Dangerous Congressional Precedent

Mortgaging our future.

As they left town for Christmas, Congress passed an unprecedented end-of-the-year appropriations bill with billions in wasteful spending designed principally to benefit incumbent members of Congress. This bill includes thousands of self-serving Member-directed spending projects and displays total disregard for both legislative process and the Constitution. Though civics teaches that both Houses of Congress must pass a bill before it can be presented to the president for his signature to become law, this did not happen. Instead the House, fearful of political fallout, used trickery so members could avoid voting on the actual bill as it passed the Senate. A dangerous precedent.

The 3,417-page bill (34 pounds) was dropped barely 20 hours before final consideration by the House. It included 9,170 member-directed spending projects. Over 300 of these had never been made public, seen by rank-and-file Members, or passed by either House. Combined with the 2,161 passed earlier, Members gave themselves a total of 11,331 self-serving projects, costing Americans over $20 billion this year. During a season of goodwill, this bill, and those who crammed it through Congress, showed none toward American taxpayers, their children, or grandchildren.

This legislation continues an embarrassing trend in government pork-barrel spending, funneling untold billions into pet projects designed to reelect incumbents. Most such projects are not requested, or even supported, by the departments obligated to deliver them. Many are outright corrupt — directing funds to members’ contributors, former staffers, and even family members. The Democrat leadership promised to “make this the most honest, ethical, and open Congress in history,” yet under their guidance members of both parties continue brazenly using tax dollars to benefit themselves.

Senator Ted Stevens matched his “Bridge to Nowhere” with $20 million for a “Ferry to Nowhere” that appears to benefit his brother-in-law and former staffers. Congressman Jim Clyburn, the Democrat Whip, obtained $229,000 for the Drew Wellness Center, a physical fitness center where his daughter works. In 2003, Clyburn obtained the $900,000 to construct the center. Clyburn also obtained $3 million for a private charity associated with the “James Clyburn Golf Center” he established at taxpayer expense in 2002. Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee obtained $1.95 million for a center bearing his name and bragged on the House Floor that he deserved it. The bill even restored the now -infamous Hillary Clinton-Chuck Schumer Woodstock museum.

Members devote huge amounts of time to these projects and openly acknowledge the funds are being used — not for the larger public good — but to ensure incumbents’ reelection. In a letter to Speaker Pelosi, the leader of a prominent Congressional Member caucus complained that caucus members weren’t receiving enough projects to ensure the reelection of its incumbents in “highly contested races.” At this rate, members will soon complain they aren’t receiving sufficient bribes to maintain their lifestyle.

While the short-term ramifications of Washington’s corruption and fiscal promiscuity are disturbing, the long-term consequences for our children and grandchildren should give every American cause for serious concern. Because Congress chooses to spend far more than is collected in current taxes, the government must borrow money to fund our largess.

And borrow we have, to the point where our current national debt is a whopping $9.2 trillion dollars — or more accurately $9,193,315,468, 899.43 as of December 21, 2007. That translates to $30,323.94 of debt for every man, woman, and child in America.

Who, exactly, is lending us all this money? Well, Japan has lent us $586 billion. We owe Communist China $400 billion. Our “friends” in Saudi Arabia and other oil producing nations have lent us $123 billion. And here is the really bad news: they expect us to pay them back — with interest. In fact, we paid $430 billion in interest on our debt last year alone.

Of course, current taxpayers are not going to pay anywhere close to all of that debt — we can’t possibly. So who will be stuck paying for our wasteful and irresponsible spending? Today’s wasteful and corrupt spending will be tomorrow’s obligation. Our children and grandchildren will be forced to repay today’s wasteful spending. Anyone who truly cares about the future of their children and grandchildren must demand that Washington put an end to this corrupt and economically disastrous practice.

One recent survey put Congress’s approval rating at eleven percent. Given the self-serving, wasteful conduct Congress continues to engage in, it is shocking the number is not lower.

There was celebration and back slapping in Washington pre-Christmas as members congratulated themselves for a job well done. But I suspect, as Americans learn once again that members of Congress devote more energy to looking out for themselves than the nation’s and our children’s well-being, congressional approval ratings will sink ever further, and deservedly so.

John Shadegg is a Republican congressman from Arizona. For more on member-directed spending projects, see this Congress Daily article.

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