- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

An aroused and angry Congress is providing the emergency relief and defense funds needed to fully respond to the terrorist attacks. But some people are shamefully exploiting this terrible tragedy to squeeze money out of the Treasury for their own special interests.
Lawmakers swiftly approved $40 billion for the recovery work in New York and Washington, and for the national security, health and safety efforts that are now under way. Last week, another $7.1 billion was drawn down from that sum and parceled out to the agencies and programs that are involved.
Then came the $15 billion to rescue the airlines, some of which were threatened with bankruptcy because millions of business and tourist travelers stopped flying. The bailout was divided into two parts: $5 billion in cash assistance and $10 billion in loan guarantees.
The airline safety bill will pay for a broad range of stepped-up government actions to secure airports and commercial airlines from terrorist threats. That bill may cost as much as $40 billion, according to some estimates. An anti-terrorism bill is also moving through Congress, though its full cost is unclear now.
In the works is the economic stimulus bill, a combination of tax cuts and new social welfare spending to extend unemployment benefits and help families who have lost health-care benefits.
So far, we are talking about nearly $150 billion in spending, and that does not count the increased defense spending that will be needed to prosecute the war. Nor does it count more demands for unemployment benefits, food stamps and the like because of the economic downturn.
This is all well and good. We are going to spend whatever is needed to defend this country and its citizens, and to track down and exterminate the terrorist monsters who prey on innocent people for their own demented and evil ends.
What we should not do is to let special interests use this tragedy to make the case for further federal handouts for themselves and their industries. Many, whose claims are unrelated to the terrorist attacks and their direct impact, are also trying to grab some of the $40 billion in emergency relief funds.
"The country's renewed patriotism has encouraged a parade of special interests to wrap themselves in the flag and use the tragic events to link their causes to the U.S. Treasury," says Ronald Utt, a budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation who has been monitoring the emergency appropriations process.
"In contrast to the rest of the country, what passes for sacrifice among some in Washington is how much of somebody else's money i.e., the taxpayer's you are prepared to spend," Mr. Utt says.
One of those trying to wheedle money out of the government is the American Society of Travel Agents. They argue that "Without travel agencies, the nation's travel industry cannot function." The ASTA is seeking $4 billion in grants and no-interest loans.
The American Bus Association, which has actually benefited from this tragedy because more Americans are using ground transportation, is telling Congress that the "U.S. motor-coach industry is in the midst of an economic crisis." They want tax credits, low-interest government loans and new assistance to promote their industry.
Then there is the farm lobby, which managed to push a grotesquely fat $170 billion subsidy bill through the House last week, linking it with the terrorist acts of Sept. 11. A well-heeled group of trade associations representing the growers of 20 major agricultural commodities declared that "farmers, like other industries that Congress has helped since the terrorist attacks, are suffering economically."
The highway lobby is trying to get its hands deeper into the subsidy trough, calling for billions more of tax dollars more for their industries above and beyond what we already give them.
The National Association of Railroad Passengers, which lobbies for more money for Amtrak's money-losing operations, is getting into the act, too. "The tragedy and its aftermath raise the possibility that more Americans will see the need for more modern passenger trains," the NARP said in an e-mail to members of Congress.
NARP wants Congress to pass the $19 billion High Speed Rail Act, while Amtrak wants $3 billion in extra cash over and above the $2 billion they get in annual appropriations.
Needless to say, many lawmakers are more than happy to tap into the Treasury's pipeline for these and other special pleaders. Bills have been introduced to give Amtrak $37 billion, plus $70 billion in loans and grants for railroad upgrading.
And this is only a small part of what the special interests here are seeking. Bills are sprouting all over Capitol Hill seeking similar infusions of cash, loans, tax credits and other assistance, appropriations officials told me this week.
Congress must tread carefully as it sifts through competing, self-serving pleas for tax dollars, keeping its entire focus on the demands of war, national security, caring for the victims and their families, and rebuilding the American economy.
It must not permit an orgy of pork-barrel spending that will rob precious financial resources from the critical life-and-death struggle that lies ahead of us.

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