Congressional Observer: May 2004

 - October 4, 2007, 7:29 AM

• Trillions, billions and chump-change millions appear to be the common denominations being bandied about in halls of Congress. For example, the House of Representatives approved a $2.4 trillion budget resolution that would increase spending by some 7 percent for the military and homeland defense, cut or freeze spending for other agencies and put the brakes on further tax cuts to the benefit of the economy.

The House followed that by approving a $275 billion highway and mass-transit bill by a vote of 357 to 65 that effectively eliminates the chances of a veto by President Bush. The Senate had passed a $318 billion version, and both amounts exceed the $256 billion limit set by President Bush. The Senate and House bills will have to be reconciled.

Even though “earmarked” or “pork” amendments, tacked on to previously approved appropriations bills caught the critical eyes and attention of government-spending watchdogs and caused much weeping and wailing, House legislators seized another opportunity for pork and loaded the highway bill with about 3,200 amendments.
Pork, which has been defined as a project not requested by the president, not specifically authorized, not subject to competitive bids or congressional hearings, is the work of an individual member of Congress to service a local or special interest. Traditionally, legislators do not challenge each other’s amendments for fear of retaliation.

Some of the juiciest slices of pork in the highway bill include: $7 million to build a “Renaissance Square” in Rochester, N.Y.; $1.5 million for improvements to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.; $4 million for a new parking building in Oak Lawn, Ill.;$2.5 million to improve the Blue Ridge Music Center in Galax, Va.; $3.4 million for new vans for Boysville, a Catholic nonprofit agency in Clinton, Mich.; and $1 million to renovate a historic depot and bus station in Jessup, Ga. An amendment by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) to wipe out all the pork amendments bit the dust by a vote of 367 to 60.

• The Citizens Against Government Waste (www.cagw.org) released its current Congressional Pig Book Summary, available from CAGW at 1301 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20036, for $25 or through www.cagw.org. CAGW reported that there were 10,762 projects in 13 appropriations bills, an increase of 1,310 projects over last year. Included were such items as $5,000 for catfish health in Stoneville, Miss.; $33 million for the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa; $1.2 million for seafood harvesting, processing and marketing and $631,000 for alternative salmon products in Alaska; $4.3 million to establish a Geographic Information Center for Excellence; $740,000 for aquaculture product and marketing development and $690,000 for agriculture waste utilization in West Virginia; $4 million for the International Fertilizer Development Center in Alabama; and, $1.2 million for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

A search for pork projects that would be of primary benefit to aviation came up short.
• The mid-March meeting of the House aviation subcommittee, held in the vacant Signature Flight Support hangar at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and chaired by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), held promise that Congress could act to open DCA to general aviation operations. Mica, who called himself a “persistent bastard,” vowed to hold hearings on the subject and had the obvious support of general aviation alphabet groups. Given the customary timetables for introduction and enactment of enabling legislation, there might not be much time to spare before the upcoming national elections, which could result in a shift of congressional power. A display of interest by letters to Mica from the general aviation public might stimulate timely action. Mica’s contact information is as follows: The Honorable John Mica, Chairman, House Aviation Subcommittee, House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515.

• That Boeing/U.S. Air Force lease and buy deal for a hundred 767 tankers drew a rebuke from the DOD Inspector General, whose report to Congress says, “The Air Force used inappropriate procurement strategies and did not use best business practices or prudent acquisition procedures to provide sufficient accountability for the expenditure of $3.5 billion.” The contract is being held in abeyance until the DOD general counsel, the Defense Science Board and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces complete their reviews.

• S.2268, the Cockpit Security and Technical Corrections and Improvements Act, a bill to provide for recruiting, training and deputizing pilots for the federal flight-deck officer program (FFDO), was introduced by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). The bill would mandate that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) begin training a pilot within 90 days of application and immediately arm eligible pilots who have a military or law-enforcement background and send them through the FFDO program within six months. Legislators have been displeased with the TSA’s attitude toward and support for the existing program. Said Bunning, “They will get the message or they will lose their money for the program and we’ll put it where they will get the job done.”

• H.R.4056, the Commercial Aviation Manpads Defense Act of 2004, introduced by Rep. Mica would encourage the establishment of both long- and short-term programs to address the threat of man-portable air defense systems (Manpads) to commercial aviation. The FAA Administrator would be required, not later than 30 days after the enactment of the bill, to establish a process for conducting airworthiness and safety certification of missile defense systems for commercial aircraft. Such airplane-mounted systems would be designed to defend against man-portable air defense systems.