Congress' spending spree puts U.S. in red

July 17, 2002|By Cal Thomas

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Bush administration has announced the federal government is in the hole again after four years of "surpluses."

The government will run a deficit of about $165 billion this year, which the administration blames on costs related to the war on terrorism and a steep decline in revenue from capital gains taxes and other receipts linked to the volatile stock market.

There is another cause of the deficit the administration is reluctant to mention. It is outrageous, unwarranted, self-serving congressional spending. Democrats and Republicans are exploiting the war on terror to pass record new spending measures.

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) keeps tabs on unnecessary spending (www.cagw.org). In a June 14 essay, CAGW President Tom Schatz wrote "that unlike World War II and the Korean War, when Congress actually cut non-defense discretionary spending by 20 percent and 28 percent, respectively," this Congress is on a spending spree.

"While the House increased President Bush's budget request for $27 billion to $28.8 billion," Mr. Schatz wrote, "the Senate went whole hog by upping the cost to $31.4 billion."

CAGW estimates that the federal budget this year contained $159 billion in "total pork, corporate welfare and general waste," Mr. Schatz said -- approximating the size of the deficit.

Just some of the projects tacked onto June's "emergency" Senate spending bill supposedly designed to fight terrorism include another $55 million for the hopelessly mismanaged Amtrak, $16 million for New England fisheries, $4 million for the Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington (which closed in early May) to support community outreach programs for women, $2 million for the Smithsonian's National Worm Collection, and $80,000 for the Wausau (Wis.) Health Foundation to survey people entering and exiting the health profession.

The list also includes $100 million to build a depleted-uranium plant in Paducah, Ky., when the Department of Energy has an identical plant in Ohio; $50 million to renovate the Ames, Iowa, animal research lab; and $5 million to subsidize farmers' markets and roadside produce stands in 31 states.

According to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, last year was the first time in a decade that members of both parties in both houses of Congress had net average agendas that would increase federal spending. Of 5,501 bills introduced in 2001, just 50 would reduce spending, says the foundation.The GOP, supposedly the party of smaller government, lower taxes and reduced spending, has few members who still believe in such things.

As Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth, wrote in a May 13 column in The Wall Street Journal, "Over the past year and a half, government has been the single fastest growth sector of the economy. It has grown faster than construction, services, housing and even consumer spending."

Mr. Moore notes that in 2001, the private sector, which suffered from the recession, grew a paltry 0.5 percent, but government spending was up 6 percent for the year. For the first quarter of this year, data indicate that private-sector activity rose by 5 percent as the economic recovery kicked in. But government's spending soared twice as fast.

There is so much wasteful and unnecessary spending by government that it would take volumes to detail. Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont wants $25 million for the National Historic Barn Preservation Act. Why couldn't volunteers who love the state's heritage do the repairs?

President Bush has a unique opportunity in an election year to challenge Congress to do the patriotic thing and stop this gross misspending. But he'll have to convince congressional Republicans to go along. He should recall the words of Ronald Reagan, who observed that we have a deficit not because the American people are taxed too little, but because their government spends too much.

Cal Thomas' syndicated column appears Wednesdays in The Sun. He can be reached at Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave, Suite 1500, Chicago, Ill. 60611, or via e-mail at www.calthomas.com.

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