- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2001

It is widely known that Congress, flush with money from the budget surpluses, has been spending lots of our tax dollars on wasteful pork-barrel boondoggles. But no one knew how much until President Bush´s budget advisers totaled up the bill.

When the White House Office of Management and Budget made public the full cost of Congress´ election-year spending binge, Mr. Bush´s top budget aides were shocked. A secret OMB review ordered by Mr. Bush found lawmakers had tucked 6,183 earmarked spending provisions into 13 appropriations bills, resulting in nearly $20 billion in additional spending for fiscal 2001.

It was a record amount of pork-barrel spending on thousands of dubious or low-priority projects, grants and giveaways, often intended to grease the political palms of powerful special interests. More often than not, the money was inserted into big spending bills without the review or formal approval of any committee, department or agency.

Here were some of the items slipped into spending bills last year:

$500,000 to restore a carousel in Cleveland, Ohio.

$2.6 million to refurbish an opera house in Meridian, Miss.

$300,000 for manure processing in Florence, S.C.

$300,000 for the pineapple industry.

$5.25 million to build a new dormitory at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia, including a state-of-the-art gym and lodges with living rooms and fireplaces.

$10 million to expand the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, N.M., a museum that is a tourist attraction.

The extent to which lawmakers bellied up to the trough for their share of pork last year stunned even the most vociferous critics of pork-barrel spending. There were 701 projects costing $292 million in the Housing and Urban Development budget alone.

An OMB official told me that its pork survey revealed “thousands and thousands of these add-on spending projects” that were whisked past the ordinary spending review process.

Pork-barrel spending has been going on since the government first began doling out money. But this longstanding abuse of tax dollars has become much worse lately, as the budget surpluses have grown larger. Faced with a bonanza of surpluses an estimated $5.6 trillion over the next 10 years and still growing members of Congress have gone on a shopping spree to reward their friends back home and to feather their political nests at the same time.

“The huge growth in pork-barrel spending is the strongest and most compelling argument one can use for the president´s proposal to get a part of the surplus back to the taxpayers who earned the money in the first place,” said a Bush budget adviser. “If we don´t, Congress will spend it.”

The president´s $1.6 trillion tax-cut proposal is intended to restore the economy to full strength and to keep Congress from squandering the rest of the surpluses. But another, bigger document a “budget blueprint” will be issued by the White House later this month to detail Mr. Bush´s other spending priorities.

This document will tell us what the president plans to do on the other side of the budget ledger that is, on which areas of government he wishes to spend less. Some of his top advisers have told me he will need to make budget cuts to offset his ambitious spending proposals.

“You have to have fiscal restraint in order to achieve the tax plan. You have to reduce the growth in government spending,” says John Cogan, a budget analyst at the Hoover Institution who has been helping the White House to draw up its budget plan.

In unusually strong language, Mr. Cogan, who also worked on the Bush tax-cut plan, said budget cuts were not an option for the president, but an imperative.

“You have to cut elsewhere. You have to take money from lower-priority programs, pork-barrel spending, and programs that have outlived their usefulness to finance the president´s initiatives,” he told me.

“One cannot put all of the president´s initiatives on top of existing federal spending,” he said.

Mr. Cogan, who was offered the job of Mr. Bush´s budget director but turned it down, said federal spending is growing by 5 percent a year, nearly twice the rate of inflation, “and we have to get under that.”

Throughout his campaign, Mr. Bush kept the focus of his new spending plans on education, defense, health care and other areas. He did not talk at all about cutting spending. If there were a federal agency or program that Mr. Bush thought wasteful or even unnecessary, he never shared that feeling with the voters.

Will Mr. Bush and his budget director, Mitch Daniels, take Mr. Cogan´s advice and send a plan to Congress that cuts wasteful spending? OMB and the Heritage Foundation have given the White House lengthy lists of places to achieve major budget savings. Whether Mr. Bush will propose any of them will be one of the first big tests of his presidential leadership.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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