- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2001

If not now, when? In 1992, Congress wouldn't cut pork-barrel spending when the federal budget was in deficit by $292 billion. In the mid-1990s, with a national debt of $5.5 trillion, Congress continued indeed increased pork outlays.

Lately, even with Social Security imperiled by tens of trillions of dollars in future unfunded liabilities, legislators have steadily ratcheted up hometown pork: $12.1 billion in fiscal '99, $17.7 billion in 2000, and $18.5 billion this year.

Like the rest of the country, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) was appalled by the events of Sept. 11, and urges the president and Congress to take all necessary steps to ensure security. The war against terrorism requires ample resources.

However, even prior to the New York and Washington disasters, legislators were planning to dip into Social Security funds for education, farm aid, and plain, old-fashioned pork. Last week, Congress unanimously voted to appropriate $40 billion from this year's Social Security surplus for relief and defense.

While there will be debate over how best to win this new war, and tough decisions about commitment of U.S. forces to be made, there should be no debate over eliminating every penny of pork in the budget. Is this finally the time when the national need is great enough and the crisis sufficiently severe that members of Congress will give up their parochial projects?

As members of Congress contemplate where to go with the 13 appropriations bills for fiscal 2002, CAGW believes they should avoid a giant omnibus continuing resolution. Recent history proves the more bills stuffed into one omnibus, the bigger the mess. Such a bill would include mountains of useless spending, without necessary examination of expenditures or effort to eliminate projects with no bearing on national security or essential needs.

Members of Congress should sign a "no-pork pledge" to indicate this time they are serious.

Signing this pledge will require a sea change in the spending culture on Capitol Hill. In the current fiscal year, which ends next week, pork barrel projects reached a record $18.5 billion, including $5.8 million for wood utilization research to Alaska, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon and Tennessee; $1.5 million added by the Senate for the Vulcan Monument in Birmingham; $550,000 for the Springfield Library and Museum Association in Massachusetts for a national memorial honoring Dr. Seuss.

While even in the best of times these expenditures are absurd, in these difficult times there should not be any question about giving them up. The $18.5 billion is nearly half of the $40 billion just provided for what is likely to be the first installment of America's response to the attack on our nation, without even considering bailouts for the airline or travel industries.

For the fiscal 2002 bills pending in Congress right now, CAGW has identified additional funding for wood utilization and the Vulcan statue, along with $200,000 for international asparagus competitiveness, the same as last year.

Certainly, new priorities at the Defense Department require the reallocation of resources from pork to protection. Projects that could be eliminated include: $8.5 million for the Gallo Center for Alcoholism Research; $12 million for the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program; $4 million for a large millimeter telescope in South America; $1 million for the Chabot Observatory; and $250,000 for artifact recovery from the Civil War ship CSS Alabama.

Frankly, pork is just the tip of the giant iceberg of misspent government dollars. CAGW estimates Washington will throw more than $1.2 trillion in waste and mismanagement down the drain in the next five years. All waste should be addressed, but cutting pork would be done immediately.

President Bush and Congress have made clear that national security is the government's first duty and top priority as intended by the Founding Fathers. To provide appropriate resources for this crisis, it is acceptable to use payroll taxes as a source of funding. But, it is not appropriate to once again fail to eliminate programs that should have been cut years ago.

Rather than simply throw in the towel with a single omnibus appropriations bill, members of Congress should work night and day to pass spending bills that reflect the new reality and reject their old, wasteful ways. This is vital work for the country providing citizens with a safe, secure, and fiscally responsible nation. It requires leadership, and in the case of pork-barrel spending, very little sacrifice.

Tom Schatz is president of Citizens Against Government Waste.

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