WASHINGTON -- Thousands of pork-filled giveaways have been stuffed into a bloated, end-of-the-year spending bill working its way through Congress this week.
Practicing a dead-of-night thievery long associated with big budget bills, the Democratic House leadership released this 1,482-page monstrosity in the wee hours of Monday morning and quickly scheduled floor debate by 6 p.m. that same day. That left budget cutters scant time to uncover how much fiscal skullduggery their colleagues had perpetrated.
The so-called catchall, omnibus appropriations bill, tipping the scales at $516 billion, contained 9,170 parochial spending projects, according to Sen. Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who has become the GOP's chief waste fighter on Capitol Hill.
These are projects that the government's departments and agencies did not ask for, that the administration did not seek or approve and that were not subjected to even a minimal scrutiny by the appropriate congressional committees with jurisdiction over them. Members of both parties inserted them into the bill, with the acquiescence of the leadership, to help them win next year's election -- usually by those who loudly proclaim their allegiance to fiscal responsibility.
Two lawmakers heavily associated with these "earmarks" are Sen. Hillary Clinton, whose name appears 50 times in the budget disclosure form, and her chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, whose name appears 22 times.
Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, another sworn enemy of pork-barrel spending, said the earmarks in this week's bill total more than $12 billion.
In many cases, these giveaway grants and assorted appropriations go to private organizations in a member's state or district. Oftentimes, this money is extracted from Congress with the help of lobbyists who are paid big bucks to grease the wheels of the earmark-spending machine.
"It is business as usual. The Democratic leadership failed to keep its promise to cut earmarks by 50 percent," said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.
In macro budget numbers, there was some solace for President Bush, who had vowed to veto the bill when Democrats were proposing to add $27 billion more than he requested. Democrats cut their wish list to $11 billion, and Bush threatened to kill that, too.But in its latest version, Democrats claimed they had met the president's demands, using some legerdemain that pushed some of the funds into the off-budget "emergency" gray zone. Still, Bush said he was pleased with the final numbers, with the exception of funding for Iraq. There was none.
The Senate is expected to wage that fight, and Republicans were not going to allow a vote on the bill without money for the war.
If Bush gets his war funding, as I suspect he will, the overall budget battle will go down as a defeat for the Democrats. They had sought a 7 percent hike in domestic spending, the president wanted about 1 percent and the bill will weigh in at about 4 percent, including "emergency" funding.
"The result is to effectively surrender 80 percent of what Democrats once hoped to add to the president's top line," reported the Wall Street Journal's David Rogers.
Even so, Bush's victory comes at an enormous price, as the budget's list of 696 pages of earmarks makes so painfully clear.
The Democrats ran on reining in pork-barrel spending and ending the earmark abuses, but this grotesquely overweight budget is proof that they have failed to keep their promise -- and never had any intention of doing so.
In the meantime, Clinton, her Democratic presidential rivals and the leadership of their party are promising to raise taxes if they win back the White House.
But the Treasury and the Congressional Budget Office released IRS tax-revenue numbers for 2005 last week, showing that the wealthiest 1 percent of all income earners paid 39 percent of all income taxes that year. The top 5 percent, which earned 36 percent of all income, paid nearly 60 percent of all income taxes. And the wealthiest 10 percent paid 70 percent.
The IRS showed that, since the Bush tax cuts have been enacted, the level of income taxes that the richest Americans paid has risen every year. Notably, taxpayers below the median-income level -- half of all households -- paid 3 percent of all income taxes.
Then there is the claim that the Treasury needs more of our money to pay its bills. Clinton says that if she is elected president in 2008, she will push the top income tax rate to nearly 40 percent from the 35 percent rate we have now.
But this year's waste-ridden budget -- spending $12 billion on projects the government didn't ask for -- suggests that maybe Congress is getting too much of our money as it is.