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The homeland-security pork barrel
Question of the Day
Common sense suggests that homeland-security money should be spent disproportionately on jurisdictions facing the greatest threat: New York, Washington, major metropolitan areas, military installations, chemical facilities, power plants, water-treatment plants and other potential terrorist targets. The Senate, thus far, refuses to see the light, instead opting for a pork-barrel approach favored by small-state lawmakers.
The latest offense is the apparent removal, when few were watching, of a provision in the Patriot Act reauthorization bill to balance the spending formulas. The bill is currently in conference committee and appears to be moving forward without the provision. It would have lowered the minimum share of certain major homeland-security grants to 0.25 percent per state -- what places like Wyoming would get -- and a minimum of 0.45 for border and coastal states. Currently the minimum is 0.75 per state. But the status quo is winning out.
According to sources close to the negotiations, five of the conferees support changing the rules but five oppose it. Our sources were surprised to hear that Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican and an unlikely supporter of the small-state arguments, is reportedly resolute in his opposition. Mr. DeWine has thrown his weight behind Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, two small-state champions. Mr. DeWine's support is indeed odd: Under the proposed spending formulas, his state would do quite well. Ohio is the seventh-most populous state and home to major metropolitan areas surrounding Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland. We called Mr. DeWine's offices for an explanation, but by late yesterday, our calls went unreturned.
What's most telling about all this is the breakdown of Senate and House votes on spending formulas. Three times, the House has passed bills to correct the spending imbalance, but all three times it has been thwarted by a few senators. In May, a stand-alone bill passed 409-10, pushed by a wide coalition of urban, rural and suburban lawmakers. Nearly everyone in the House agrees that the formulas are skewed and need to be fixed. The Senate, by contrast, has yet to build any real consensus. While Sens. Collins and Lieberman have been pushing the status quo, a more reasonable bill from Sens. Diane Feinstein, California Democrat, and John Cornyn, Texas Republican, never got much traction.
The current approach borders on the absurd. On a per-capita basis, it gives Wyoming several times what New York gets. It ensures a sizeable take for fire stations in Maine, whose legislative task force on homeland security only met for the first time last month, but it fails to give the proper account to the most pressing terrorist targets. Funds should be allocated to jurisdictions based on their potential as a target. Pork-barrel politics is bad enough when it related to transportation funding. It must not be countenanced regarding the security of our homeland.
By Michael P. Orsi
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