Paul Greenberg

While the national spotlight is on the looming Fiscal Cliff and whether the country will go over it, plunging into the roaring waters below -- cue scary music -- the usual high-rollers (with your money, Dear Taxpayer) have seen their chance. They've put together the mother of all log-rolling, patronage-dispensing, pork-distributing appropriation bills, and are about to sneak it through the Senate while the country's attention is elsewhere.

What a grab bag of a bill, with the emphasis on grab. By the time you read this, the whole list of goodies may have received the Senate Seal of Approval, which comes to resemble a rubber stamp. Though it's hard to imagine the Republican-dominated House going meekly along. The bill certainly follows the order of priorities our president has favored for years now: spend first, think later -- if at all. And set 'em up again. It's all on the house, or rather the Senate.

Naturally, this grab is called an Emergency Relief Bill, purportedly for the benefit of victims of Hurricane Sandy, although it might be more accurately described as the Sandy Claus Bill. For any relation between the devastation Sandy caused and the long list of this bill's beneficiaries may be only coincidental. For example: Fisheries in Alaska get $150 million in federal largesse. Who knew Sandy got that far west?

The Justice Department and Homeland Security get $8 million to beef up their motor pools and generally supplement their TO&Es -- tables of organization, equipment and spoils. (It's an ill hurricane that blows no good.)

There's a couple of million in the bill for a new roof on Washington's sad old Smithsonian Institution, which doubtless needs one but needs an organizing principle a lot more. It's spread out over nine ill-assorted buildings (unless I've lost count of some here and there), and its different divisions go from the near-sublime (the National Portrait Gallery) to the more than ridiculous (the National Museum of American History).

Three million-some-odd artifacts (some very odd indeed) are rattling around the Smithsonian's vast storage closet of a "history" museum. They seem to bear no relation to each other or to the purpose of a museum -- if the Smithsonian has a purpose other than demonstrating how a fine example of late Victorian architecture can be swamped by a blank 1960ish addition, and make a crammed hall closet look like a model of organization. (If every decade has a stereotype -- the buttoned-down 1950s, the gaudy leisure-suited '70s -- the 1960s could be summed up as Where We Went Wrong.)

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.