SO MUCH FOR austerity, that clarion call of Republican fiscal conservatives in Congress. Pork is back.
Is it ever! Just look at the 1,600 "high-priority" projects included in a monstrous transportation bill about to clear the House of Representatives.
This is pure, 100-percent lard that will cost taxpayers a staggering $18 billion over the next six years.
Nearly every congressional district gets its share of goodies -- about four projects per member. Representatives who oppose such blatant taxpayer giveaways, such as Delaware's lone House member, Republican Michael N. Castle, wind up with nothing.
House Budget Chairman John R. Kasich rightly calls this an "abomination." In bucking House Speaker Newt Gingrich on the issue, he said, "Frankly, this bill is a hog; it is way over the top."
President Clinton agrees. As the chief White House economics adviser put it mildly, "The transportation bill has gotten a bit out of hand."
House Transportation Committee Chairman Bud Shuster of Pennsylvania has tossed around so much money for district projects that he seems assured of winning House approval of the huge bill.
But Mr. Clinton's fear that this budget-buster will force cuts in education and social service programs to meet the fixed balanced-budget caps could weigh heavily in a House-Senate conference committee.
Mr. Kasich increased the sense of urgency by calling for a presidential veto if Republicans don't come to their senses.
It's ironic that Republicans are rushing to fill up with federal pork, after years of heavy GOP criticism of Democratic big spending.
The party of fiscal austerity ought to heed Mr. Kasich's warnings and eliminate the excess from this transportation bill.
The nation needs a sensible program that funds legitimate highway and mass transit needs without wasteful spending.
Pub Date: 4/01/98