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Capitol Hill Feeding Frenzy
July 3, 2001

In his 1770 book, Cycle of Democracy, Alexander Tyler wrote, "Democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits…"

The bidding war is on, and either way, America stands to lose. As lawmakers belly up to the public trough, eager to bribe us with our own money, we will pay in both dollars and democracy.

Despite a Republican President in the Oval Office and a GOP majority in the House, fiscal restraint remains a foreign tongue on Capitol Hill. So far this year, congressmen have earmarked $279 billion for 18,898 projects – more than three times the requests logged in 1995 when Republicans took control of Congress. According to Citizens Against Government Waste, pork-barrel spending is up 297% since 1997, and the feasting is far from done.

Take a look at the FY 2001 budget. Spending for Treasury/Postal spiked 571% from the previous year to $648 million, and Interior appropriations rose 86% to $616 million. The Please Touch Museum snatched $925,000, ornamental fish research gulped $648,000, and the Vulcan Statue in Birmingham, Alabama got a $1.5 million facelift. Add $40 million to implement the Pacific Salmon Treaty, $3 million to figure why fish are attracted to an offshore feature called the Charleston Bump, $2 million for an Ice Age National Scenic Trail in West Virginia, and you’ve only grazed the tip of the iceberg.

There’s a Beltway binge going on, and for all the talk of Republican belt-tightening, pork addiction doesn’t appear to be party specific. On the contrary, when Republican Ted Stevens controlled the Senate Appropriations Committee last year, he wrangled $480 million in pork for his home state of Alaska. In the same budget, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott scored a $460 million amphibious assault ship to be built in his hometown of Pascagoula, Mississippi. No matter that the Department of Defense neither needs nor wants this luxury liner.

Keeping President Bush’s backloaded tax cut on track requires lawmakers to limit federal spending to 4% growth per year – no small sum in a $1.95 trillion budget. But so far Congress seems unable to resist a spending spree. Before leaving for the July 4 recess, the House passed a bill that cost 5% more than the White House request, has already gone $4 billion over budget on education, and just received an Administration appeal for $19 billion in new defense spending. As the 4% anticipated spending hike swells to 7%, the Congressional Budget Office warns that tax revenues will come in $20 billion below expectations.

But our representatives continue to pile their plates high. Before rewarding this excess with return tickets next election, we would do well to consider the cost. And we know just the place for such a long hard look. Seems America has a Thinking Institute, located at Mississippi State University. It just received $461,000 of your tax dollars courtesy of Senator Thad Cochran, self-proclaimed conservative.

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