It's been almost three weeks since Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) protested the relatively small expense (estimated at about $1 million) associated with the landing by President Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln to greet returning American troops. All three complained about a "waste" of taxpayers' money and how, if the event was necessary at all, it could have been accomplished at much lower cost.
Normally such concern for wasting our money would be cause for praise, coming as it did from three of the biggest spendthrifts in Congress. But, as so often happens in Washington, these men practice the fiscal opposite of what they preach.
Citizens Against Government Waste (www.cagw.org) has chronicled the cost of pork-barrel projects brought home by Byrd in the 2003 budget at $298 million. Byrd may have diverted more federal money to West Virginia than Saddam Hussein skimmed from the U.N.'s oil-for-food program. In fact, about the only thing not named for Byrd in West Virginia is the state itself. He also managed to pick taxpayer pockets for $150,000 just so he could build another office closer to the Senate floor as a personal convenience.
CAGW calculates Conyers' 2001 congressional waste vote rating at 15 percent (meaning CAGW agreed with just 15 percent of his votes). Waxman received a 16 percent waste vote rating. Such men claim we can't "afford" a tax cut. What we can't afford is ever-increasing amounts of unnecessary spending.
If Democrats desire conversion to fiscal restraint, there are many areas where they could answer President Bush's appeal for reduced spending.
Reason magazine reports this month that the federal government spends $3 billion a year on public opinion surveys, not counting academic studies.
According to Congressional Quarterly, the Senate version of the defense supplemental appropriations bill contains $1.7 billion in earmarked pork-barrel projects. That includes $98 million for an agricultural research center in Ames, Iowa, sponsored by Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). The Omaha World Herald reported last month that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) tried to remove just $250 million in extraneous spending but was defeated on a 60-39 vote. McCain focused particularly on a $50 million appropriation for loan guarantees for shipyards, a program that has been criticized by the inspector general. As the World Herald noted, Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) are from the state that benefits most from the program. While they claim the loan guarantees were central to the war effort, only one of the ships used in the Iraq war was financed with such a loan. A corporation that received a $330 million loan under the program last year now faces bankruptcy.
The Washington Times reported last month that if all the paperwork the IRS receives were laid end-to-end, it would circle the Earth at the equator 36 times. The IRS is currently sending 8 billion paper pages to taxpayers. Anyone calling the 800 taxpayer help line has a 30 percent chance of getting a busy signal, receiving wrong information, being disconnected or hearing a recording. From 1986 to 1998, the IRS spent $5 billion on computers that did not work.
On and on it goes, and it is bipartisan. Both parties waste our money without shame. Some members openly brag in press releases about their misspending ways. The attitude seems to be, "I'm going to get my share for my state so I can stay in Congress and get even more." Whatever happened to frugality and setting an example with other people's money? If we can't get these characters term-limited, the next best thing would be to reduce their salaries and benefits by a certain percentage for every year they do not balance the budget by cutting waste, fraud and abuse. That would get their attention. It would also reduce the appetite for ever-increasing amounts of our hard-earned money and thus lower our taxes and revitalize the economy.
Don't look for that to happen. Not as long as we have the likes of Byrd and Waxman and Conyers around.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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