- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2001

As Congress moves forward on the appropriations process for fiscal 2002, signs of a confrontation between leg-

islators and the White House are everywhere.

The first bills out of the box for next year agriculture, energy and water, and Interior appropriations exceed the president's request. Members are lining up at the Rules Committee to offer amendments to add even more spending to the bills, even as new White House estimates indicate the 2001 surplus will be $56 billion less than anticipated. The House and Senate's response will determine whether fiscal restraint or pork and profligacy will flourish in this year's spending bills.

In addition, deadlines are falling quickly by the wayside, as the House usually has several bills approved by mid-June and the Senate is well along on their own. Yet by Independence Day, only three appropriations bills were passed by the House.

The new Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman, Sen. Robert Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, has thrown down the gauntlet against the president's opposition to overspending. He has made clear he thinks Congress should set spending priorities, not the White House, and that pork will rule with him as king.

These delays bring opportunity for mischief. The two largest appropriations bills, Defense and Labor/Health and Human Services/Education, are likely to be considered in September. Members will have plenty of time to stuff these bills with pork before they leave the station. With President Bush promising to veto bills that spend more than the congressional budget resolution allows, we may well be headed for a budget train wreck this fall, the kind everyone thought had gone away as surely as Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich.

The Bush administration's line in the sand opposing pork is based on recent history. In fiscal 2001, Congress porked out at record levels, squeezing 6,333 projects totaling $18.5 billion into the 13 appropriations bills.

That was a 46 percent increase in projects and a 4 percent increase in pork spending. This perfect storm of pork was the result of the convergence of three immovable forces an embarrassed president looking for a legacy, a Congress focused on re-election, and a budget surplus.

With two of these factors out of the equation this year, and a fiscal conservative in the White House, budget hawks had been optimistic. But their hopes have been dashed by recent reports that members of Congress are requesting earmarks (read: pork) at breakneck speed. For example, according to a source on the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee, there have been approximately 10 requests per member, or 4,350 projects for fiscal 2002. That's more than 5 times the total amount of projects, 821, found by Citizens Against Government Waste in the entire fiscal 2001 Transportation Appropriations bill.

There are three reasons for this continued "spend first" mentality. First, there is a surplus in Washington and the same members of Congress who claim they do not want to squander it on tax cuts do not hesitate to squander it on porcine projects. Mr. Byrd, for example, has repeatedly called the president's tax cuts "risky" and said they would deprive the federal government of vital revenue. He recently had the gall to blame the budget process, rather than himself and his fellow appropriators, for past spending excesses. The truth is, Mr. Byrd is worried the federal gravy train of money to West Virginia might get derailed.

Second, instead of taking responsibility for their pork barreling, some members of Congress claim "my constituents made me do it." Legislators should decide which spending projects are worthwhile, not kowtow to every plea for funds from special interests in Washington or back home.

Finally, Congress has failed to eliminate even the most egregious examples of federal bloat. To cite one small example, last year the House voted 132-287 rejecting an amendment to eliminate $200,000 for "international asparagus competitiveness." Overspending that could once be justified by crises such as war and poverty, are now, after a decade of unparalleled peace and prosperity, revealed as simple waste. Congress' parochial and redistributive underbelly lies exposed.

In past years, Citizens Against Government Waste has been critical of Congress not completing work before the end of the fiscal year. This year, however, might be different.

If President Bush stands tall for taxpayers and rejects superfluous spending with a dwindling surplus, a fourth-quarter showdown may be beneficial to the republic and the fiscal health of all.

Thomas A. Schatz is president of Citizens Against Government Waste.

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