Thursday, November 15, 2001

Many are properly outraged that families of the victims of September 11 are not getting the bulk of the money collected for them by the American Red Cross. The charitable organization is currently “reassessing” its decision to put less in its own organizational pockets and more into the pockets of the ones for whom the money was ostensibly raised.

One of the underreported stories is how many nonprofits redirect funds donated for one purpose to other purposes. In recent days, I have received direct mail appeals from organizations using September 11 as a hook to pad their coffers and make political points.

It should come as no surprise that Congress, after milking bipartisanship for its own partisan reasons, is about to bilk the taxpayers out of huge amounts of money for reasons that have little to do with improving security or helping the relatives of victims, but everything to do with increasing legislators’ own power and influence.

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) estimates that if Congress committed itself to eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, it could save $1.2 trillion over the next five years. CAGW puts its own spin on the efforts of legislators using the national apprehension to push through new spending bills: “With the massive new spending on defense, intelligence and homeland security, to say nothing of economic stimulus, eliminating the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste thrown down the drain annually is a matter of national security,” states CAGW President Tom Schatz on the CAGW Web site. “With all the blubber in the budget, there is no excuse for a return to deficit spending or for tapping Social Security surplus funds.”

Some members of Congress are responding responsibly to the terror attacks but others are not. Some fear a vote against wasteful spending might anger the public and they might be branded as soft on terrorism.

Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation, believes there are three political parties: Republicans, Democrats and appropriators. The appropriators, he says, are a separate party unto themselves. In a commentary for his organization’s Web page, Mr. Weyrich writes about a meeting between President Bush and the congressional leadership. Sen. Robert Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, reportedly told the president that if he held to his vow to veto proposals beyond the $40 billion in new spending he has already authorized, Mr. Bush would be charged with not doing enough to upgrade airport security, inoculate citizens for smallpox and extend unemployment benefits.

Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, agreed at a separate meeting of Republican colleagues, prompting Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, “to ask Stevens if he really intended to put that sort of burden on President Bush. Stevens said that is exactly what he intended to do,” the Free Congress site notes.

Congressional Democrats will return to their class warfare rhetoric this week, according to the New York Times. Apparently, the era of bipartisanship is over and politicians think they can now safely return to the partisan bickering which, to them, is normal.

Mr. Weyrich’s point is that true bipartisanship in Washington is about ripping off the taxpayers. If a member doesn’t go along with the appropriators, the legislator has no chance of getting anything for his or her constituents. This is political blackmail that has been tolerated for too long.

“What is happening now,” says Mr. Weyrich on his Web site, “is a massive disgrace. These appropriators, in the name of public safety and order, are dredging up every disgraced program previously discarded even by the Clinton White House. They have used up every dime of surplus dollars. And in doing so they are thumbing their noses at the president and the congressional leadership.”

When the Red Cross doesn’t fully deliver on its fund-raising promises, journalists, talk show hosts and Congress rightly ask why. Too often, Congress gets away with worse misspending, either because the press doesn’t do a good enough job of exposing legislators’ expensive shenanigans, or the public is too preoccupied coming to grips with the aftermath of September 11 to keep an eye on the public purse.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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