The Sweet Sounds of Porkbusting

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Nov 27, 2006 11:34 AM

Like silver bells, but more angelic.

It's been years since federal agencies have screamed this loudly about fiscal discipline being imposed on them. GOP Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina have decided to take a stand against overspending by objecting to the nearly 10,000 earmarks, or member-sponsored pork projects, larded throughout the spending bills Congress is currently considering.

Coburn and DeMint. I guess I should be thankful the Senate can produce at least two wise men.

Their obstinacy has convinced the leadership of the departing Republican Congress that they probably won't be able to pass spending bills in next month's short lame-duck session. Instead, they are likely to pass a stopgap "continuing resolution," which will continue funding all programs at last year's level until the new Democratic Congress passes its own versions of the funding bills.

They don't make violins small enough for this kind of thing.

Mr. Coburn says the decision not to pass earmark-stuffed catchall spending bills could save taxpayers a cool $17 billion. All 10,000 earmarks in the pending bills will expire if they aren't passed by the end of the year.

Coburn thinks the Republican Congress may be learning lessons from the whooping it received. I'm not sure it counts if Coburn and DeMint are dragging their appropriating buddies across the line, but I'll take it.

Nonetheless, the cries of pain are mounting now that it looks as if many federal agencies will have to get by until late January or even later with the same amount of money they got last year. Of the 11 spending bills covering the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, only those governing defense and homeland security have become law.

Only defense and homeland security? Why, that sounds downright constitutional!

Appropriators are beside themselves that a continuing resolution that restrains spending is on the table. Rep. Jerry Lewis, who is ending his stint as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, calls it a "catastrophe." A spokeswoman for Mr. Lewis's Senate counterpart, Thad Cochran, says it is "irresponsible."

For that, Lewis gets my traditional tribute to Republican, "I-do-what-I-want" appropriators:


(By the way, this clip is employed merely for the "whateva, I do what I want" quote, not to imply that any appropriator has been involved in illegal activity.)

Overall federal spending has gone up by 49% since 2001, but you wouldn't know it from the anguished cries of those who regard ever-higher spending as some sort of birthright. A Congress Daily headline reads, "Agencies Say Long-Term CR Would Devastate Programs." The New York Times warns of "cuts in school breakfasts and shelter for the poor."

Women and minorities hardest hit!

Nonsense, say Messrs. Coburn and DeMint. "Any agency that can't figure out how to function under a one-year CR is incompetent," a Coburn spokesman tells Congress Daily.

No comment.

Will they try to pass them anyway?

Some supporters of the Senate status quo may try to roll over objections to new spending bills and try to pass them anyway when Congress reconvenes on Dec. 4. If they do, Mr. Coburn and his allies already have over 40 amendments ready that would force senators to vote on authorizing individual pork barrel projects. "With Christmas around the corner, no senator wants to sit through that," says Andy Roth of the free-market Club for Growth.

Hee hee hee. Merry Christmas!

What will the Dems do?

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the political maestro behind the Democratic takeover of the House, has a bill pending that would expose the earmark process to serious political sunlight but is already encountering resistance to it from Democratic spending barons.

I like it.

On the Senate side, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois joined Mr. Coburn last year in successfully sponsoring a bill that created a publicly accessible database that will soon put information on every proposed earmark on the Internet.

Loved that.

Mr. Obama recognizes that with the growth of entitlement spending, liberals will soon not have any money available to them for new federal programs unless they either pass politically risky tax increases or start curbing wasteful spending.

I don't really believe Dems are gonna carry the banner on this issue, but I'll thank either side for small improvements, and Emanuel and Obama want to make them. Given than Congressional Dems are unlikely to follow their smart, centrist lead on this, it's a shame Republicans have already squandered 98 percent of their right to the mantle of fiscal restraint.