- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 5, 2005

Runaway spending is rapidly surging past $22,000 per household. Current projections are, unless spending is controlled, taxes will need to rise in 10 years by $7,000 per household just to balance the budget. Yet the Senate recently voted to keep a bloated spending bill larded to the max.

The 2006 Transportation, Treasury and Housing and Urban Development (TT-HUD) appropriations bill is stuffed with pork items. Oct. 20, Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, offered an amendment to strip funding for three of them:

• $200,000 to build an animal shelter in Westerly, R.I.

• $500,000 for a sculpture park in Seattle.

• $950,000 for a new parking lot at an Omaha museum.

Mr. Coburn has no animus toward animals, art or autos. He does, however, ask the right questions: Are these parochial projects national priorities? During wartime? While rebuilding the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast?

Mr. Coburn’s idea was to scrap some patently frivolous spending to help pay for truly important projects, such as rebuilding the Gulf Coast. As he noted, the $200,000 earmarked for the “Stand Up for Animals” shelter in Rhode Island could buy six months of emergency housing for 50 families left homeless by Hurricane Katrina.

This logic was alien to most of Mr. Coburn’s colleagues. Prioritize spending? Spend housing funds on housing? What madness is this? The amendment failed, 86-13.

Six in seven senators, it seems, feel it’s more urgent to shelter suburban strays than Americans left homeless by hurricanes.

Just as egregious, only 15 senators voted for Mr. Coburn’s proposal to take money set aside for Alaska’s infamous “bridge to nowhere” and rebuild a vital New Orleans bridge destroyed by Katrina. The rest of the Senate indefensibly chose pork over rebuilding New Orleans with those funds.

But perhaps the House of Representatives can do better.

Concerned about a 33 percent spending increase since 2001, House leaders are now trying to decide how to offset Katrina spending by trimming funds elsewhere. One idea offered by Speaker Dennis Hastert: increase to $50 billion five-year entitlement savings from the $35 billion planned last spring.

It sounds ambitious, but actually it’s quite modest: $50 billion represents just half of 1 percent of the $7.8 trillion entitlement spending planned for that period. The challenge is no greater than that faced by a family of four making $50,000 a year and suddenly faced with the need to pay off a $250 emergency-room bill over five years.

Leadership is also considering peeling back 1 or 2 percent of the discretionary budget swollen 48 percent since 2001.

Yet these modest proposals have liberals — and more than a few self-described “conservatives” — screaming. Some contend the proposals single out poor families, which is absolutely false. Half of the planned entitlement savings would come from corporate pension fees, auctions of old television spectrums, revenues from the Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and corporate welfare farm subsidies. None of those policies affect low-income families.

As for Medicaid, virtually all planned savings thus far are administrative. These proposed reforms mean Medicaid would grow “only” 40.8 percent, rather than 41.3 percent, over the next five years. Overall, entitlement spending would still increase 31 percent over the next five years. Not exactly the coldhearted “entitlement slashing” of the media accounts.

If lawmakers cannot enact even these basic reforms, how will they ever fix the coming crises in Social Security and Medicare? Without entitlement reform, lawmakers would have to either: (a) raise tax rates every year until they are nearly 60 percent above today’s level in 2050; or (b) immediately begin eliminating programs until 2045, when only Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and net interest would remain. This would put the nation smack in the midst of uncharted economic waters, and each year’s delay makes the inevitable reforms more expensive and painful.

Against that backdrop, Congress must pursue fiscal sanity, not fiscal suicide. The House leadership’s attempt to reduce spending is a good start, but it must go further by delaying the unaffordable Medicare drug entitlement and setting a moratorium on pork spending. As it stands, Congress’ pork-laden spree threatens the standard of living of every American.

Brian Riedl is the Grover M. Hermann fellow in federal budgetary affairs in the Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

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