- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2000

By a voice-vote on the passage of the Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education bill, Congress finished up its lame-duck session just like Santa Claus. After gobbling up all the taxpayer cookies, it left special interests a big bag of goodies and vanished without saying barely a word. That's probably because it left taxpayers a big lump of coal in their stocking.

This year's discretionary spending will a tally a staggering $635 billion. That's $10 billion more than President Clinton asked for, $24 billion more than would be required to maintain current spending at the rate of inflation, $35 billion more than was authorized by this year's budget resolution and nearly $100 billion more than allowed by the 1997 Balanced Budget Act.

The biggest benefactor of Republican-controlled congressional largess was the Department of Education, which received $6.5 billion in increased funding. Congressional Quarterly noted that this is "an 18 percent increase over last year's funding and the biggest increase since the Department was created in 1979." Medicare was given the special sort of care that $35 billion in additional spending provides and the National Institutes of Health received a booster shot of $2.5 billion in increased spending.

The budget situation was so good for Democrats that Rep. Barney Frank said, "There were standing ovations." He called the meeting "very upbeat" between House Democrats, Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew, and White House Chief of Staff John Podesta.

Taxpayers, however, had no reason for applause Congress failed to repeal a telephone excise tax which was originally passed to pay for the Spanish-American War and declined to say anything about the new rules on repetitive motion injuries passed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration earlier this year.

Taxpayers did receive a few small presents, since Republicans trimmed approximately $3.6 billion from discretionary spending in the Labor-HHS bill, saved taxpayers an estimated $3.3 billion by derailing an Amtrak funding proposal, avoided a minimum wage increase, and defeated a White House-backed school construction bill.

However, there was so much pork in the budget that it read like a holiday catalogue from PBS, including $1 million for crab research in the Bering Sea, $750,000 for bottle-nosed dolphins, $700,000 to allow the University of Idaho to post its jazz collection on the Internet, $400,000 for the Southside Sportsman Club, $250,000 for the Swiss Center of North America, $176,000 for the Reindeer Herders Association, and $100,000 for the "Trees Forever Program."

It can only be hoped that in the new year, President Bush will provide taxpayers a nice tax cut, before Congress is as naughty with spending as it was this year.

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