Is anyone surprised?
Tucked inside an emergency spending bill that the Senate will take up this week are provisions far afield from the legislation's main purpose of paying for the war in Iraq and hurricane recovery. There are farm-program provisions totaling $4 billion, for instance, along with $700 million to relocate a rail line in Mississippi and $1.1 billion for fishery projects, including a $15 million "seafood promotion strategy."
Video Report: 'Emergency' Spending While each program has supporters who can make a case for its urgency, together they have helped to increase the "supplemental" bill's price tag to $106 billion, $14 billion more than President Bush requested and nearly $15 billion more than the House has approved. And they have focused new attention on what many fiscal conservatives and watchdog groups consider a growing problem: the use of emergency spending bills for initiatives that critics say should be considered through the regular budget process.
AEI, as is tending to be the case more and more lately, is the sane conservative voice to the rescue:
Veronique de Rugy, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said supplemental bills amounted to "budget tricks" to evade spending limits.
"We have been using supplementals to finance the war, and it might actually make sense the first year," she said. "But three or four years into the war, no war spending should be going through supplementals. It's not as if it's sudden, urgent and unforeseen, or temporary."
These supplementals need to stop. They provide an obvious bonanza for Congress to stuff in more pork and treats to themselves. Wait, scratch that. They just provide another opportunity for Congress to stuff in pork, as they've turned every piece of legislation in front of them into a bonanza so far. Right now in my Department we're dealing with an Avian flu supplemental that has thrown a lot of the Department's regular business into chaos because we suddenly have to spend a whole lot of money in a really short time period. In case you're wondering, I'll spell out the obvious. It ain't being spent in a way that makes any sort of sense. The Department of Health and Human Services is about to buy a TV NETWORK and a whole army of documentary filmmakers with the Avian Flu supplemental. Such a wise use of taxpayer dollars. Of course since the final price tag on that is barely 10 million dollars over the next five years that'll hardly make news considering the higher-price tag items above that make even less sense. And that's actually one of the more sensical projects, if you can even believe it.
The above-linked NYT piece also goes on and on about Trent Lott's 700 million railroad relocation and using billions to buy yet more Pentagon hardware the Pentagon itself has been trying to phase out for years. But, of course, you have to protect those jobs in your home district! Supplementals represent the worst of budget politics. "Emergencies" like the War in Iraq that should have long ago become a mainstay of the annual Pentagon budget are being exploited in the worst way, with a few nods to Katrina relief thrown in as an extra disguise. No Congressman who thinks about re-election would work to have a supplemental like this defeated for the stigma of starving Hurricane victims or denying the soldiers in Iraq necessary supplies. If it was regular budget talk there would theoretically be more discipline on this sort of thing and the votes wouldn't be so politicized (I say theoretically because the regular budget really hasn't been much better). AEI is right that these are little more than budget tricks, and it's time it came to an end. I call again: vote against all incumbents in 2006. I'm going to.