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Reinventing Pork

Well, it’s almost that time again. Time for President Clinton and members of Congress to start putting their heads together and come up with a new federal budget for fiscal year 1995. And you know what happens when these folks put their heads together…That’s right: a feeding frenzy at the federal trough.Last time around, during …

Well, it’s almost that time again. Time for President Clinton and members of Congress to start putting their heads together and come up with a new federal budget for fiscal year 1995. And you know what happens when these folks put their heads together…

That’s right: a feeding frenzy at the federal trough.

Last time around, during the battle over the budget for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 1994, the Clinton Administration insisted America would have to endure a record-breaking tax hike. And though Congress put on a big show about the need to cut spending first, we got both higher taxes and increased spending. As the great Yogi Berra once said: It looked like deja vu all over again.

Unfortunately, while everyone was talking about austerity and “deficit reduction,” members of Congress were busy inserting billions of dollars worth of pork-barrel projects into federal appropriations bills-a surefire way to increase their visibility in their home districts and curry favor with powerful special interests.

One member wanted to build a parking garage in Burlington, IA, for $2.5 million. Somebody else wanted to spend $11 million on potato research. We all know how badly America needs a “National Textile Center,” so someone else sneaked that in-to the tune of $9 million. And as if the fiscal 1993 deficit of $285 billion wasn’t enough, $100 million was the price tag for research on “Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems.”

Some Americans, listening to the president’s mantra, probably believed that the biggest tax hike in U.S. history was going to pay for deficit reduction. What it really will pay for is more government spending.

Through tax increases and other revenue devices, the fiscal 1994 budget will make U.S. taxpayers approximately $263 billion poorer over the next five years-and make Washington that much richer. The government needs that money to finance an estimated $313 billion in additional spending.

Even today, many Americans still don’t understand that last summer’s showdown over the president’s $496 billion “deficit reduction” plan was a sham. The best case scenario-and these numbers are from the Congressional Budget Office, controlled by Clinton’s own party-is that the president’s plan will cut the deficit from $266 billion in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 to around $200 billion in 1998. But by the year 2003, CBO projects the deficit will soar to a record high of $360 billion. Now bear in mind, that’s if the tax hike doesn’t shrink America‘s tax base, resulting in less tax revenue and even higher deficits, like every other tax hike on record.

What’s going on here? If the fiscal 1994 tax hike isn’t really about deficit reduction, what is it about? Well, that’s a simple question to answer: It’s about spending and pork and business as usual in Washington.

The fact is, liberals really aren’t worried about deficits. They only made an issue of the deficit, because they needed a platform on which to campaign, one that might help them discredit the Reagan legacy. Indeed, if you examine their economic statements closely you will find most liberals believe deficits are good for the economy.

Liberals like government spending, because, as far as they are concerned, money is spent most wisely when government is spending it. To them, the private sector is an unsettled wilderness where people act on their own. Government must tame this wilderness; channel its energies; and bring order, fairness, and happiness.

In truth, the Republican administrations of the 1980s held this mentality somewhat in check-though the congressional spending stampede proceeded pretty much apace during the Reagan-Bush (especially the Bush) years, only at somewhat less of a gallop. But the slowpokes were swept aside in 1992, through the astute use of Reaganesque rhetoric by Bill Clinton.

Now that a liberal is back in the White House, government can do what, by liberal lights, it is supposed to do-take money out of the hands of private citizens and put it where it can do the most good: into government programs.

When the Clintons arrived in the White House, the president said he wanted to reverse the effects of “12 years of trickle down, and reinvent government.” What he didn’t tell us was that, as far as he is concerned, spending our money is what government is all about. And spending it on pork is what Congress is about.

On what pressing national needs is our money being spent? To answer this question, just look at some of the yummies in the appropriations for fiscal 1994:

First, there are hundreds of programs and projects that are purely local in nature and should not be the concern of a national legislative body. Should taxpayers in Manhattan or Jersey City, for instance, pay part of the $6.8 million price tag for a railroad crossing in Lafayette, IN? Is it a national priority to spend $7 million for a commuter parking lot and bus stop at Dulles Airport in Fairfax County, VA?

Should we ante up $250,000 for the Toledo Farmer’s Market; $200,000 for dredging the Milwaukee harbor; $300,000 for construction at the Lake 0′ The Pines in Texas; $98,000 for a carp control study in Ohio; or $1.5 million for “further development of North Carolina‘s geographic information system”? Of course not. These are state and local matters. If Ohio taxpayers want to spend one-hundred grand to study carp, that’s up to them. But leave us out of it.

Another interesting category of pork is the kind that benefits private companies, industries, and politically well-heeled interest groups.

Did you know about the $1.6 million for the “Tailored Clothing Technology Corp.”? How about $33 million for enhanced oil-recovery research; $14.9 million for “law school clinical experience”; $14.5 million for the Overseas Private Investment Corp.; $250,000 for “Generic Commodity Promotion Research and Evaluation”; and a cool $200 million for the Market Promotion Program, which subsidizes overseas advertising for large U.S. corporations-some of which you may he competing with for the same business?

At a time when Americans are being told, not asked, to make sacrifices, the market should be making the commercial decision whether or not to finance such projects. Instead, Congress and the bureaucrats are making the decision. Then there are the tens of billions spent each year on land purchases, construction projects, and new acquisitions that any reasonable taxpayer would consider a luxury in light of fiscal 1993′s $285 billion deficit. These projects include: $51 million for a new U.S. Courthouse in Hammond, IN; $10 million for another in Kansas City; $12 million for a federal building in Scranton, PA; $61 million in land acquisition funds for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and $71 million for the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp. in the nation’s capital.

There are also many government agencies and programs that Congress continues to fund even though they have long histories of failure or financial problems. For example: The Farmers Home Administration, which, despite $56 billion-worth of unpaid principal in its loan programs as of September 1992, has been granted another $8.4 billion for fiscal year 1994.

Similarly, members of Congress requested $751.9 million in fiscal 1994 for the Small Business Administration, despite a lack of evidence that SBA loans have had any noticeable effect on small-business development.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. In January, when the debate over the budget for fiscal 1995 begins in earnest, we need to remember these lessons of the recent past.

Instead of cutting deals with Washington to protect their slice of the economic pie, business and industry leaders should stand up and yell, “Stop the spending!” Only then might we get a sensible federal budget.


Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D., is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington, DC-based public policy research institution. He also serves on the boards of several other foundations and research institutes. Dr. Feulner is the author of “Conservatives Stalk the House.”

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