Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The just concluded “lame duck” session of Congress should have been labeled the “goose that laid the golden egg session” for the federal goodies it dispensed.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, told me he is pleased Congress reduced the “rate of the increase in spending.” Is this why we have a Republican congressional majority so they can increase spending less than Democrats?

While it is true the massive $388 billion spending bill reduces spending increases for some things, like education and the environment, there is still too much pork for healthy fiscal living. The bill will be fine-tuned further early next month before going to the president for his signature, but no one expects any of the wasteful spending to be curtailed.

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, compared the lame duck session to the movie “Groundhog Day” where the events of one day are repeated the next day and for days after that. “Every year, it’s the same thing,” said Mr. Flake. “Congress passes spending bills loaded with pork projects. In fact, this year … Congress spent $100,000 for the Punxsutawney Weather Museum in Pennsylvania.”

Other “golden eggs” laid by the congressional geese include $450,000 for the Baseball Hall of Fame, $200,000 for the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum in Ohio, $350,000 for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, $1.5 million for the Anchorage Museum/Transit intermodal depot in Alaska, $250,000 for the Country Music Hall of Fame, $100,000 for the Municipal Swimming Pool in Ottawa, Kan., $35,000 for the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, $300,000 to build the Great Falls parking garage in Auburn, Maine, and $1.5 million for departing Rep. Richard Gephardt’s archive at the Missouri Historical Society.

There is no mandate in the Constitution, or anywhere else, for unnecessary and wasteful spending at any time, much less during record deficits and debt.

President Bush has promised to spend some of the political capital he believes he has earned following the election. He should work to save some of the real capital forked over to government by taxpayers. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan caused the stock market to take a dive last week when he warned that foreign investors might be reluctant to continue financing American debt and the widening trade gap.

Citizens Against Government Waste (www.cagw.org) has compiled a list of nearly $23 billion in pork projects it found in appropriations bills for fiscal 2004. CAGW has also recommended 592 ways to reduce spending it estimates could save taxpayers $217 billion in fiscal 2005 and $1.65 trillion over the next five years. Among the recommendations are committee chairmen term limits, a Taxpayer Bill of Rights, enforcing procedural rules, and providing a line-item veto.

CAGW believes the tax cuts should be made permanent and the Internal Revenue Service and indecipherable tax code scrapped and replaced with a national sales or flat tax, thus getting rid of loopholes and unfairness. Reforms in Social Security and health care, along with tort reform, also would reduce the cost and size of the federal government.

The Bush administration should make reform a hallmark of its second term, saving taxpayers billions. It might resurrect former Sen. William Proxmire’s “Golden Fleece Award,” embarrassing members who waste our money.

One place to start might be the Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. Sikorsky is bidding for a $1.6 billion Pentagon contract to replace the president’s aging helicopter fleet. Sikorsky is the company that promised, but failed to deliver, a previous fleet of helicopters known as the Comanche.

After taking 21 years and spending $8 billion on an aircraft that never took off — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld finally axed it last February — Sikorsky wants to make another run. It makes you pine for the days of $600 toilet seats and $171 hammers of former Pentagon budgets.

If it was their own money they were spending, not ours, perhaps Congress would be more frugal. The president should use his veto and shame the Republican Congress into spending less and guarding the taxpayer’s purse. As the president said during the 2000 campaign, it isn’t the government’s money, it’s your money.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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