- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

As an old lawmaker's adage goes, the legislative process is like sausage: you wouldn't want to see it made. Last week, as Congress finished work on a massive, pork-filled $397.4 billion spending bill, lawmakers pinched their noses in disgust while waiting to vote on it. "This is a bill that gives sausages a bad name," said Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican.
The fat, 3,000-page omnibus money bill which no lawmaker will ever read in its entirety combines 11 appropriations bills that were not passed last year. Since October, most of the government except for the Pentagon has been under "a continuing resolution" that lets departments and agencies spend at last year's levels.
Unfortunately, bills of this size allow lawmakers to hide tens of billions of dollars of earmarked, pork barrel spending that neither the president nor the agencies and departments have requested. This bill is stuffed with nonessential spending, robbing money from more important priorities and needlessly enlarging the budget.
At a time of mounting deficits, looming war costs and overall belt-tightening, this is a budget that deserves to be vetoed. Better "to let all non-defense-related federal programs and agencies live at 2002 spending levels," says Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.
"For four months now, the government has been operating at last year's spending levels, and guess what? Essentially, no one in the country has noticed or cares," Mr. Schatz says.
"Since Congress can't get this bill passed without inserting billions in last-minute add-ons and pork," he says, "it's time to pull the plug on the big spenders and greedy special interests by freezing spending and moving on."
The bill calls for much bigger spending increases in dozens of areas where Mr. Bush sought cuts or modest increases. Aid to education alone is a record-setting $53.1 billion, $3 billion more than Mr. Bush wants.
Hundreds of pages of pork line the casings of this bill and smell to high heaven. Consider the increased money for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the wake of the Columbia shuttle disaster. NASA is funneling pork nationwide with seeming disregard that this money if it is to be spent at all could be used for building a safer, more reliable spacecraft.
Among the items:
A $3 million increase for the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi to develop a visitors center.
A $1 million increase for the Educational Training Center at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.
Millions more for things such as a Planetarium Learning Center in Oregon.
$2 million for the Gulf of Maine Aquarium Foundation.
$1.5 million for the University of Missouri's Center for Gender Physiology.
Or consider these from the Housing and Urban Development bill:
$900,000 to reconstruct a Historic City Civic Center in Riverton, Utah.
$750,000 for a boardwalk in Daytona Beach, Fla.
$750,000 to develop the Ohio River Trail in Cincinnati.
$700,000 for homeownership classes in Charleston, S.C.
$1 million to renovate the El Paso Plaza Theatre in El Paso, Texas.
Spending projects in other parts of the bill are just as dubious:
$450,000 for an aquatic center in Petersburg, Alaska.
$225,000 for the National Peanut Festival Fairgrounds to build an arena in Dothan, Ala.
$375,000 to build an amphitheater in Plantation, Fla.
$225,000 to build the Players Theatre in Utica, N.Y.
$100,000 for a creative arts center in Lorton, Va.
And on it goes, page after page of parochial goodies that have never been evaluated by any committee of Congress.
Nearly all lawmakers will be able to claim they are bringing home a piece of this bacon for their state or district. But the most influential appropriators claim the biggest prizes.
Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is loading his state up with much of the booty. He added $100 million alone to the bill for fishermen facing hardships. His state will claim more than a third of the money.
There are truly critical spending needs in this bill that require increases homeland security and growing Medicare costs, to name only two. But they can be quickly dealt with in a separate supplemental bill, as can the costs of war.
Tom Schatz is right: Now is a time to keep the rest of the non-defense budget at current spending levels. As he puts it, with the federal budget books sinking deeper into the red, "an eight-month spending hiatus is exactly what the doctor ordered."

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

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