Our misspent tax dollars

Cal Thomas

3/31/2004 12:00:00 AM - Cal Thomas

The House last week narrowly passed a $2.4 trillion budget resolution, setting the stage for a confrontation with the Senate over proposed curbs on further tax cuts.

What should be the issue is not how much of our money Congress will allow us to keep, but how much of our money we will allow Congress to spend. Instead of debating curbs on tax cuts, members of Congress should impose spending curbs on themselves.

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) will release its annual Pig Book next week. It lists enough pork projects in the current fiscal year to harden the arteries of every taxpayer.

Spending runs the gamut from ridiculous to outrageous. Why must taxpayers shell out $100,000 to renovate an historic Coca-Cola building in Macon, Ga., when the soft drink company made millions last year and could fund the project itself? When we have a $521 billion deficit and a $7.1 trillion national debt, why is Congress playing Santa Claus by spending $200,000 for "recreational improvements" in North Pole, Alaska?

CAGW reports that pork projects this year again set new records, totaling 10,672 projects in 13 appropriations bills. That's an increase over last year's 9,362 projects. Eliminating needless and wasteful spending would put a serious dent in the national debt. But Congress, in the only bipartisan activity left in Washington, continues to act like Paris Hilton, who spends inherited money she never made.

CAGW reports Alaska leads the nation in pork projects, amounting to $801 per capita. Runners-up were Hawaii ($392 per capita) and the District of Columbia, which recently discovered lead in its drinking water to add to all of its other Third World-type problems ($321 per capita). Both Alaska and Hawaii are represented by powerful Senate appropriators, Republican Sen. Ted Stevens from Alaska and Democrat Daniel Inouye from Hawaii, who regularly bring home slabs of taxpayer bacon.

In the introduction to the Pig Book, CAGW's David E. Williams and John Middleton write, "Until Congress enacts serious and meaningful budget reform, there could be another record level of pork in fiscal 2005. Tax dollars should be focused on protecting the nation, instead of being used to protect the incumbency of members of Congress."

The profile of pork is this: It is a project that is usually the work of an individual member of Congress and is not requested by the president; it is not specifically authorized; it is not competitively awarded; it is not the subject of congressional hearings; it greatly exceeds the president's budget request or funding for the previous year, and it serves only a local or special interest.

Such as: $9,929,000 for projects in Iowa, home of Democratic senator and Agriculture Subcommittee appropriator Tom Harkin and Republican House Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee member Tom Latham. Included are $293,000 for hoop barns (cq) and $270,000 for livestock waste. What about congressional waste?

Sen. Robert Byrd, a Democrat from West Virginia and the king of pork, got $4,337,000 for the establishment of a Geographic Information Center for Excellence in cooperation with West Virginia University and $160,000 for poultry litter composting.

The First Tee program in St. Augustine, Fla., is receiving $2 million (in fiscal 2003 it received $500,000). According to the group's Web site, "First Tee is an initiative of the World Golf Foundation. The focus is to give young people of all backgrounds an opportunity to develop through golf and character education life-enhancing values such as honesty, integrity and sportsmanship." My father took me to the golf course and instilled these character traits in me without it costing the federal government a dime.

Defense and Homeland Security are attracting new pork projects that have nothing to do with fighting terrorists at home or abroad. Included is $1 million added by the House for the Young Patriots Program. According to the Defense Appropriations Conference Report, this money will help to "expand the Young Patriots Program to include a video which promotes the significance of National Patriotic Holidays." When the federal government is involved, it's always about expansion, never reduction.

Whatever the purported benefits of these projects, taxpayers should not be forced to pay for them without their consent. Read much more about this wasteful spending at www.cagw.org. Too much pork can make us sick. Bipartisan misspending won't stop until we limit the terms of those picking our pockets or force Congress to go on a diet. It's our money. Do we care enough to protest?