- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 8, 2005

Look — up in the sky. It’s a bird … it’s a plane … it’s a … flying salmon?

Yep — a flying salmon — and guess who paid for it? That’s right: We taxpayers recently picked up the $500,000 tab for Alaska Airlines to paint one of its jets to look like a really large (presumably the world’s fastest) flying salmon.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board gave Alaska Airlines the money from a $29 million pot of federal funding that Republican Sen. Ted Stevens (of Alaska, of course) pushed through Congress. Apparently they think if you see a 737 jet disguised as a 50-ton, 120-foot-long king salmon flying 30,000 feet overhead, you’ll start drooling like Pavlov’s dog and head to the supermarket to buy some tasty Alaskan seafood.

They’ve even gone so far as to name the jet the “Salmon-Thirty-Salmon.” Get it? Like 737? That’s a half-million dollars’ worth of knee-slapping, taxpayer-funded humor right there. It’s almost as funny as that massive tax increase that’s coming when Congress says it can’t afford to make your recent tax relief permanent in a couple of years because they spent all of your money on flying fish.

Ironically, this news comes just a few weeks after the (Republican) House Majority Leader proudly declared there’s no way to offset up to $200 billion in hurricane relief because there’s just no fat left to cut in the federal budget. Pay no attention to the flying salmon behind the curtain. Or the Interior Department’s big two-day “Wild Horse and Burro Adoption” in Ewing, Ill., next month. And definitely don’t pay attention to the $295 billion highway bill with more than 6,000 pork projects like the $223 million “Bridge to Nowhere,” which will connect tiny Ketchikan, Alaska, to an island with only 50 residents.

Of course, these outrageous examples of wasteful government spending are useful at illustrating the absurdity of how some of our tax dollars are spent, but they only represent a small fraction of very serious out-of-control spending in Washington.

Before Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast, fiscal conservatives around the country were discouraged with how President Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress failed to restrain federal spending. But when the Washington leadership started to talk about shipping out billions more in disaster relief without paying for it with any offsetting cuts in other programs, mere discouragement turned into outrage and the issue may have reached an important tipping point.

Conservatives in the House Republican Study Committee revolted, rising to their leadership’s challenge to present offset options. Free-market grass-roots groups like Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform and the National Taxpayers Union mobilized their members. And the normally eye-glazing issue of fiscal responsibility was all the rage with the national media.

What happens next is anybody’s guess. The White House and the congressional leadership say they’ve truly heard the message this time and will work to offset at least part of hurricane relief funds with spending cuts in other areas.

Of course, we’ve heard promises of fiscal restraint from Republican leaders in Washington for years now, even as they’ve increased federal spending by more than a third just since 2001. And this time they’ve already rejected calls for a one-year delay in the expensive new Medicare prescription drug benefit or a repeal of the 6,000-plus pork projects in last summer’s bloated highway bill, while offering few, if any, alternative cuts of their own.

The Republican leadership can’t afford to just “hear the message” from fiscal conservatives this time — they need to actually restrain spending. And they need to realize if they keep spending billions of additional taxpayer dollars on new entitlements, flying salmon and bridges to nowhere, the next message they might hear is the deafening sound of their base voters staying home on Election Day next year.

Ed Frank is director of communications for the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

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