PORK BARREL RUNNING AMUK AS USUAL

Forwarded by Jim Whittington mailto:jimw8869@megagate.com, who notes: “The massive, unbridled and reckless pork barrel legislation, controlled by an elite few in Congress, affects military retirees adversely now, and will do so even more in the not to distant future. This article is long but deserving of your reading every word of it.”

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN’S 11/20/04 SENATE FLOOR STATEMENTS
CONCERNING THE FY 2005 OMNIBUS APPROPRIATIONS BILL

Mr. President, at the beginning of this year, during consideration of the fiscal year 2004 omnibus appropriations bill, I stood on the Senate floor and spoke about how our economic situation and our vital national security concerns required us to take greater effort in prioritizing our federal spending and that we could no longer afford, literally, “business as usual.”

Unfortunately, little has changed since January. Here we are again, nearly two full months into fiscal year 2005, and we have before us another appropriations monstrosity. Let me remind my colleagues that, because of our inability to get much done around here under the regular order, this is the third year in a row that we have had to pass a mammoth consolidated appropriations bill. In fact, Mr. President, we have been forced to consider huge omnibus appropriations bills for six of the last eight fiscal years.

The fiscal year 1999 omnibus bill contained eight bills and I identified at least $11 billion in wasteful spending. The omnibus we passed for fiscal year 2000 consisted of five bills and totaled $385 billion of which $14 billion was pure pork. We rammed that bill through in late November of 1999 so everyone could go home for Thanksgiving. Sound familiar?

In December of 2000, we pushed through the fiscal year 2001 omnibus of five appropriations bills with a whopping $24 billion of pork projects. The fiscal year 2003 omnibus contained 11 of the spending bills and $20 billion in pork barrel spending. In January of this year, we shoved through an $820 billion omnibus of seven bills and $11 billion in pork. Our track record is abysmal to say the least.

The conference report before us today is 1,632 pages long and contains over $388 billion. It was put online very early this morning, and a hard copy was made available in the Senate cloakroom at 10:45 this morning. It is impossible for us to know exactly what is in this thing, and we're expected to simply take the appropriators word that it's all okay. Well, Mr. President, I've been around here long enough to know that a bill of this size, put together behind closed doors and rammed through at the last minute, cannot be all good. And I know it will be a long time before all of the hidden provisions in this legislation are exposed.

I fully recognize that it isn't the fault of the appropriators that we are forced into this new pattern of adopting omnibus appropriations measures. Overly partisan politics has largely prevented us from following the regular legislative order, and that fact must change. But while it may not be the appropriators fault that we are forced to consider omnibus appropriations measures, it is their decision to continue to load them up with unauthorized earmarks - and at a rate that only increases year after year.

Let me highlight some of the nine appropriations bills that have been rolled together in this conference report, only two of which have been voted on by the Senate. First, we have the Agriculture appropriations bill. Among the many important things funded by this measure are the Agricultural Research Service and the Food and Drug Administration, and yet it was never even brought up for consideration by the full Senate.

Instead, a handful of members had the final say in what was included in this portion of the conference report. There was no Senate floor consideration of the Agriculture appropriations bill, no opportunity for members to offer amendments, and no chance for members to be on record for voting for or against the measure.

The same is the case for the Commerce/Justice/State appropriations bill. This legislation funds the U.S. State Department as well as the Justice Department, including the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, and many other important agencies. Yet again, there was no Senate floor consideration, no ability to offer amendments, and no vote.

This was also the case for the Energy and Water appropriations bill, the Interior appropriations bill, the Labor/Health and Human Services/Education appropriations bill, the Transportation/Treasury appropriations bill, and the Veterans Affairs/Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill. Again, no Senate floor consideration, no ability for Senators to offer amendments, and no opportunity to vote for or against spending billions upon billions of hard-earned American tax dollars.

Mr. President, what we are doing here, this recent practice of thousand-page spending bills that perhaps no one person knows what it includes, is just wrong. We are shirking our duties to the American public. The process is broken and we need to fix it. We simply cannot continue to operate in this manner. We owe more to the American people.

When we ram through a gigantic bill - spending hundreds of billions of taxpayer's dollars with little or no debate because we want to go home for Thanksgiving - we send the message to the American people that we are not serious enough about our jobs. We essentially accomplish little almost all year long because everything requires 60 votes, and then, at the very last minute, we scramble around and throw together a 1,632 page bill like the one before us today. We're sending the signal that it is more important for us to be able to issue press releases - and I'm sure hundreds of them will be going out today - about how much pork we've been able to get for our states and districts, than we are about good government and fiscal responsibility.

How can we, in good conscience, defend this behavior to the American people?

It's ironic that we are here just a few days before the Thanksgiving holiday. If you're a lobbyist or a special interest you sure have a lot to be thankful for in this bill. Let's all gather around the table and get ready for a great big feast because what we have before us, in the form of an omnibus appropriations conference report, is really just one big fat turkey.

But this bird is not loaded with the traditional stuffing, Mr. President, instead it is packed with pork. That's right, at a time of war, and with an ever-growing deficit, the appropriations committee has succeeded, once again, in loading up a must-pass bill with everyday, run-of-the-mill pork projects, many of which are simply not in the national interest.

Among the most egregious aspects of this bill are the so-called “economic development initiatives” funded under the Department of Housing and Urban development. This account is nothing more than a slush fund for the appropriators - plain and simple. Contained within this section of the managers statement are 1034 locality-specific earmarks spread out over 41 pages that fund everything from community swimming pools and playground equipment to street furniture and renovations for museums and theaters. The report language for this account states “$262 million for economic development initiatives instead of $136.5 million as proposed by the House and $126 million as proposed by the Senate.”

Mr. President, we all know that the whole reason for going to conference on a bill is to hammer out the differences between the two Houses - but, in this case, instead of coming to a reasonable compromise between the two amounts - the conferees just added them together. Remarkable.

Mr. President, there are plenty of other egregious earmarks, policy riders, and run-of-the-mill pork barrel projects in this conference report.

***** READS FROM PORK LIST *****

Earmarks

Mr. President, according to information compiled from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the total number of earmarks has grown from 4,126 in fiscal year 1994 to 14,040 in fiscal year 2004. That's an increase of 240 percent. In terms of dollars, the earmarking has gone from $26.6 billion to $47.9 billion over the same period. The practice of earmarking funds in appropriations bills has simply lurched out of control.

I was shocked when I read a recent report entitled, “Is Pork Barrel Spending Ready to Explode? The Anatomy of an Earmark,” published by the Heritage Foundation, which details a new scheme being used by lobbyists to sell earmarks. Can it get any worse? Mr. President, because of the serious nature of this situation, I want to read several portions of this report for the information of my colleagues. The report states:

“A news item appearing this November in a Virginia newspaper reveals the emergence of what may be a lucrative new lobbying strategy that could substantially increase federal pork-barrel spending. In the past, earmark-seeking entities approached earmark-providing lobbyists for assistance in getting a piece of the federal budget. But in this new strategy, lobbyists openly sell such services to unserved institutions and individuals by convincing them that they might be eligible for an earmark, providing that they are willing to pay a four-figure monthly retainer.

“The new strategy was recently revealed by way of a prospective earmark for a $3.5 million community sports complex in Culpeper County, Virginia. The county has just begun construction on the project, which was to be funded with the proceeds of a county bond offering the voters approved a few years ago. But that financial arrangement might change now that a lobbyist paid the county a visit and pointed out that, for a fee, the county could get the federal government to pay for the complex. As reported in the Free Lance Star, a county official says that “he had been approached by a representative of a Northern Virginia lobbying group, who expressed optimism that funds for the $3.5 million sports complex could be tied to one or more federal appropriation bills.

“And in the not-too-distant future it is quite likely that the federal budget process will no longer take place in the halls of Congress, as the Constitution requires, but in the dozens of offices of Washington's top lobbyists —largely driven by generous contracts between the firms and their clients.

“Another reason this process bears watching is for how it reflects on Congress. The lobbyist is proposing to sell something that is not really his to sell. That he believes he can deliver it tells us that something is terribly wrong in Congress. It is one thing for members of Congress to make pork-barrel spending promises to their constituents and deliver on them, but it is quite another that earmarks can be bought and sold like bushels of wheat on the open market by private speculators. And apparently, all this wheeling and dealing is taking place without any involvement (at least not yet) by a member of Congress. As noted earlier, if Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution reserves exclusively to Congress the power of appropriating money from the U.S. Treasury, how is it that these lobbyists have come by the same privilege, and who has allowed it to happen?

“That Congress once showed budgetary restraint and fiscal continence suggests that the propensity to earmark is not some inherent flaw in American democracy, but rather a willful irresponsibility now embraced by all too many members.

Among the many tasks confronting the re-elected President Bush will be to reduce federal spending from its near record levels as a share of GDP and to narrow the deficit, which now hovers at $413 billion. A good place to find fiscal redemption is in the appropriation bills that will soon come across the President's desk. The first step in the process should be a sharply worded veto threat. It would be a welcome change if that veto threat included excess earmarks as one of many items that would merit a presidential rejection.”

Mr. President, I could not agree more. It is clear that we are in desperate need of some fiscal restraint - let's show some real courage and take a step in the right direction by ending the practice of earmarking unauthorized projects in appropriations bills. I ask for unanimous consent that the full text of Heritage Foundation report be included in the Record.

Fiscal Realities

Mr. President, we simply must start making some very tough decisions around here if we are serious about improving our fiscal future. We need to be thinking about the future of America and the future generations who are going to be paying the tab for our continued spending. It is simply not fiscally responsible for us to continue to load up appropriations bills with wasteful and unnecessary spending, and good deals for special interests and their lobbyists. We have had ample opportunities to tighten our belts in this town in recent years, and we have taken a pass each and every time. We can't put off the inevitable any longer, Mr. President.

Here is the stark reality of our fiscal situation. According to the Government Accountability Office, the unfunded federal financial burden, such as public debt, future Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid payments, totals more than $40 trillion or $140,000 per man, woman and child. To put this in perspective, the average mortgage, which is often a family's largest liability, is $124,000 - and that is often borne by the family breadwinners, not the children too. But, instead of fixing the problem, and fixing it will not be easy, we only succeeded in making it bigger, more unstable, more complicated, and much, much more expensive.

The Committee for Economic Development, the Concord Coalition, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities jointly stated that, “without a change in current (fiscal) policies, the federal government can expect to run a cumulative deficit of $5 trillion over the next 10 years.” They also stated that, “after the baby boom generation starts to retire in 2008, the combination of demographic pressures and rising health care costs will result in the costs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security growing faster than the economy. We project that by the time today's newborns reach 40 years of age, the cost of these three programs as a percentage of the economy will more than double - from 8.5 percent of the GDP to over 17 percent.”

Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office has issued warnings about the dangers that lie ahead if we continue to spend in this manner. In a report issued at the beginning of the year, CBO stated that, because of rising health care costs and an aging population, “spending on entitlement programs - especially Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security - will claim a sharply increasing share of the nation's economic output over the coming decades.” The report went on to say that, “unless taxation reaches levels that are unprecedented in the United States, current spending policies will probably be financially unsustainable over the next 50 years. An ever-growing burden of federal debt held by the public would have a corrosive effect on the economy.”

Mr. President, where is it going to end?

We have to face the facts, and one fact is that we can't continue to spend taxpayer's dollars on wasteful, unnecessary pork barrel projects or cater to wealthy corporate special interests any longer. The American people won't stand for it, and they shouldn't - they deserve better treatment from us.