Congressional Observer: January 2005

 - January 29, 2007, 10:03 AM

Having missed the October 1 deadline for funding nine of the 13 government agencies that had been neglected, a lame-duck Congress made up for that lack of action after the November elections by enacting the Fiscal Year 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act, a $388 billion “Omnibus” spending package, contained in a 3,000-page document that weighed some 14 pounds. Legislators had little or no time to sift through the volume, and rubber-stamping approval was the name of the game. Voting was delayed temporarily when legislators, to their great consternation, discovered a provision that would have allowed staff members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to go into Internal Revenue Service facilities to examine individual tax returns. Legislators deleted the provision from this “Omnibus” bill.

As they have done in previous years, legislators seized the opportunity to load the bill with “earmarked” amendments, more commonly known as “pork,” that will cost taxpayers $15.8 billion. The number of amendments, 11,772, is the most ever in one bill and several thousand more than appeared in previous “Omnibus” bills. Most were inserted with time running out and passed unchallenged; to challenge a provision would cause legislators to play the “tit-for-tat” game or, if you oppose my amendment, I shall oppose yours. And, of course, such amendments allow legislators to point with pride at the pork they have provided for their constituencies.

Government spending watchdogs have already noted the following shining examples of pork: $3.5 million to buy buses in Atlanta; $2 million for kitchen relocation in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska; $500,000 for a Nordic ski center in Alaska; $100,000 for the Punxatawney (Groundhog) Weather Museum, Pa.; $250,000 for “traffic calming” in Windermere, Fla.; $4.989 million to renovate bathhouses in Hot Springs, Ark.; $3 million for the Center for Grape Genetics, Geneva, N.Y.; $350,000 for the Rock and Roll Museum, Cleveland; $50,000 to find ways to control wild hogs in Missouri; $80,000 for the San Diego Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Center; and $25,000 to develop a curriculum to study mariachi music in the Clark County School District, Nev.