As if you needed more proof that the U.S. Senate is completely out of control, the Senate voted last week to pass a $109-billion emergency spending bill for the war in Iraq, Katrina relief and to fight avian flu -- despite President Bush's pledge to veto a bill that spends more than $94.5 billion.
Federal debt exceeds $8 trillion. Polls show that voters are sick and tired of Washington's pork-barrel spending. Still, senators can't stop larding bills with earmarks for local pet projects.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., -- a family doctor who still delivers babies and prefers to be addressed as Dr. Coburn -- introduced some 19 amendments to cut spending in the emergency measure. A small cadre of senators -- including John McCain, R-Ariz. and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. -- is allied with Coburn, but those good senators could not stop the emergency bill from ballooning by an extra $14 billion. They managed to kill only one measly earmark -- $15 million to promote Gulf Coast seafood.
Coburn also tried to cut $11 million from a $22.5 million earmark to repair 29 sites on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta levees. His bid failed. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., hectored Coburn for being "penny-wise and pound foolish," while Sen. Dianne Feinstein warned that without these levees, "100,000 people could be killed."
One big problem: Feinstein and Boxer repeatedly vote as if people will die if they don't burn through buckets of tax dollars.
Feinstein voted to throw some $200 million at giant defense contractor Northrop Grumman for Katrina-related losses insurers would not reimburse. She also voted for a $700 million earmark to bankroll the rebuilding of a Mississippi rail line -- that had already been rebuilt after Katrina.
Last year, Feinstein voted against a Coburn bid to reallocate $452 million in transportation earmarks -- including the infamous Alaskan "Bridge to Nowhere" -- so that the money could be used for Katrina relief. She also voted to protect a $950,000 parking garage in Oklahoma and a $500,000 sculpture park in Seattle. Feinstein at least did vote to cut the $15 million seafood pork.
Spokesman Howard Gantman gave me this explanation about the billion-plus of pork: "Sen. Feinstein feels it was very important to get the $37 million to help restore the levees in California. That's really all we have to say."
Boxer has a better record in that she voted against the big-ticket Northrop Grumman and Mississippi rail earmarks, but for the $15 million seafood entree. Alas, Boxer also voted to fund the Bridge to Nowhere and for the parking and sculpture earmarks.