According to a recent report by Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to eliminating fiscal waste and mismanagement in the federal government, fiscal 2003 was rife with increases in "pork spending," or projects that use taxpayer dollars to benefit special interests. According to the report, our legislators squandered a record $22.5 billion in pork in 2003. That represents a 12 percent increase from fiscal 2002, and a 337 percent increase over the past five years.
Now one would think that a war and a $300 billion deficit would be cause for fiscal restraint. That is, after all, the general practice. During World War II and the Korean War, Congress pared back pork spending and dedicated its resources to keeping the country safe.
Despite the new economic and military demands that accompanied the war in Iraq, our legislators continue to pork without a conscience, effectively siphoning money from the defense of this country. Among the more egregious examples recorded by the CAGW report:
- Rep. Terry Everett (R-ALA.) sneaked $202,500 for a National Peanut Festival into economic development appropriations. No doubt the peanut festival was a rousing good time, but it is of dubious national significance.
- Appropriators from the Departments of Commerce, Justice and State diverted millions away from the war on terror to fund pet projects, such as the First Tee Program, which dedicates $500,000 toward the construction of new golf courses for "young people . who have not previously had exposure to the game.."
- Hidden away in the recesses of the 2002 Defense Appropriations Bill, was a $3 million deal to lease 100 fuel tankers from Boeing. The General Accounting Office estimates that the six-year lease will cost taxpayers up to $30 billion. GAO reported that it would cost approximately $23 billion less to upgrade the current fleet. Mark Carpenter, media manager for Citizens Against Government Waste, summed up the lease deal succinctly: "This is a corporate giveaway to Boeing."
- Tucked into the 2003 Labor/HHS/Education Appropriations Bill was an $800,000 gift to the Grammy Foundation for music and arts education. Never mind that the Grammy Foundation board is studded with millionaire mega-stars. The burden of financing the organization falls to the taxpayer.
- Overseas Pork increased 20 percent from 2002. This level of waste is a double indemnity because it also drains precious resources from the nation-building process in Iraq - a key component in the war against terrorism. In one of the most blatant examples of foreign operations pork, Appropriators handed out $500,000 to the International Coffee Organization, whose professed goal is to stimulate the coffee economy. Coffee is good, but protecting our troops and confronting threats from rogue states should come before handouts.
The list goes on, endlessly and senselessly.
CAGW president, Thomas A Schatz, links the record increase in pork spending to delays in passing the 2003 budget. Though fiscal 2003 began in October, Congress did not approve all of its spending bills until February. Those delays may have allowed legislators to sneak in extra pork. "When they (Congress) finally reached an agreement by combining 11 of the 13 appropriations bills, members had just a few hours to comb through the 1,500-page bill before voting. As a result, juicy morsels of pork went unnoticed and unquestioned, "says Schatz.
Not surprisingly, those states with powerful appropriators led the way in pork spending. Sen. Stevens (R-Alaska), Sen. Inouye (D-Hawaii), and Sen. Byrd (D-WV) were first, second and fifth respectively in pork spending. They are all on the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations. This abuse of power is particularly deplorable given our current commitment to debt forgiveness and nation building in Iraq. Some economists estimate that the rebuilding effort could push the price tag for war upwards of $200 billion. That will require a dramatic increase in military and foreign spending. Against this backdrop, it is more important than ever to use the taxpayer dollars wisely.
As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated during June 2001 Congressional testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee: "We are not treating the taxpayer's dollars with respect - and by not doing so.we are depriving the man and women of Armed Forces of the training, equipment and facilities they need to accomplish their missions. They deserve better."
We are committed to a war against terrorism. Already that war has played itself out in Afghanistan and Iraq. Other phases will follow. Ensuring the success of this war and securing the safety of U.S. interests will place new demands on the treasury. Now, more than ever, we need to cut down on government waste.
A good start would be to create rules of accountability for those agencies charged with spending our tax dollars. That means linking federal appropriations to some baseline of accountability. We are at war. We need to demand that our legislators stop raiding the treasury to line their own coffers.