Cal  Thomas

It's time for that annual ritual known as March Madness. No, this March Madness isn't about college basketball. It's about how much money Congress plans to attach to appropriations bills to curry favor back home with their pet projects.

This is the Democrats' first opportunity now that they're back in the majority to prove they meant it when they promised to do things differently. This after 12 years of Republican control in the Congress and its failure to do anything about the misspending it derided when Democrats ran the place before.

My favorite Washington watchdog group, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), has just published its annual "Pig Book," which chronicles some of the most outrageous and wasteful government spending.

After seven years of record-setting pork, the "2007 Congressional Pig Book" reports a decline in pork spending, thanks largely to Republican Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who prevented nine appropriations bills from being enacted last December. Some credit also goes to two Democrats, David Obey of Wisconsin, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, and the king of pork, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, both of whom imposed a moratorium on earmarks for the remainder of fiscal 2007.

This is a new fiscal year and pork to a member of Congress is like a chocolate cream pie to someone on a diet. The temptation can be too great to resist.

The biggest temptation to lard on more pork - and thus an indication of just how serious the Democrats are about real spending reform - will come as soon as Congress takes up the president's war supplemental appropriations bill. President Bush has proposed $99.6 billion in supplemental spending for the global war on terror and an additional $3.4 billion for reconstruction related to Hurricane Katrina.

Brian Riedl of The Heritage Foundation says among the rumored add-ons are between $5 billion and $7 billion in farm subsidies (even though farm incomes are at record highs), $1 billion for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, $1 billion for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (I thought Joe Kennedy and Hugo Chavez were helping with that) and many more questionable expenditures that manage to find their way into appropriations bills, even when there are supposed to be spending caps. Congress brags about its spending caps, but it knows how to get around them. It merely declares an "emergency" and spends the money on what it wants.

Cal Thomas

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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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