The Beltway Special Interests | Citizens Against Government Waste

The Beltway Special Interests

Press Release

After 9/11, President Bush and Congress moved rapidly to dip into the Social Security surplus for $40 billion in emergency spending to cover rescue and cleanup costs and bolstered defense.  Since then, to its credit, the administration has repeatedly pointed out that $40 billion is a huge sum and will take months to spend, therefore obviating the need for more immediate emergency spending.  “We need to resist pressure to unwisely expand government.  [Government] should do a few things and do them well,” Bush explained.  Likewise, Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels cautioned that, “With a little imagination, any straight-faced advocate can recast his pet program somewhere under the inviting headings of war, recession, or disaster recovery.”  The president has also promised to veto bills that exceed the total budget of $686 billion agreed to on October 2.

How right they were.  With billions up for grabs, the special interests have come out of the Washington woodwork to ask for every conceivable subsidy, loan, or tax break.  As of this writing, these interests have pushed for more than $400 billion in proposed post-9/11 government spending.  For taking advantage of a national tragedy to lobby for handouts, and attempting to divert crucial resources from national defense during a time of crisis, CAGW names the Beltway Special Interests the collective Porker of the Month for November 2001.

The first two culprits are two quasi-government agencies, Amtrak and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).  Both were wrought with waste well before 9/11, and both see in the terrorism bailouts a chance to get into the black and forestall real reform.  Thanks to National Association for Rail Passengers lobbying, Amtrak, a model of government inefficiency, could receive billions of new federal dollars [HOW MUCH?].  Amtrak hasn’t turned a profit since its birth in 1971, and since has received more than $23 billion in taxpayer funds, including $360 million last year alone.  Paradoxically, Amtrak responded to the post-9/11 increase in riders and revenues by asking for more subsidies.  Since 9/11, Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) has proposed to not only give Amtrak billions more [HOW MUCH?], but would let it off the self-sufficiency hook indefinitely.

The Postal Service has also seen 9/11 as cover to bail themselves out of big deficits on the taxpayers' tab.  The government monopoly has asked for $5 billion in emergency payouts, a sum large enough to cover new security needs and erase most of its pre-9/11 loss of $1.65 billion.  This new request is particularly vexing, coming as it does, from an agency with more than $1.4 billion in waste and mismanagement as identified by its own inspector general.  By forgoing the $197 million it paid in corporate executive bonuses last year, USPS could easily afford the $40 million [PER MACHINE?] it is going to cost to sanitize the mail.  Instead, USPS is seeking not only a bailout, but to raise first class mail rates by another three cents, ignoring the real causes of its financial deficits.

Quasi-government agencies aren’t the only ones with their hands in the federal cookie jar – private industry is guilty too.

The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) receives the over-inflated ego award for declaring, “Without travel agencies, the nation’s travel industry cannot function.”  Travel agencies have, no doubt, been hurt by 9/11, but their business was weak long before due to more efficient, less costly online ticket agents like Expedia and Priceline.  ASTA is asking for $4 billion in federal loans and loan guarantees.

Other tourism industry operatives are looking to get a taxpayer-financed boost, too.  The American Bus Association wants $1 billion, claiming the “U.S. motorcoach industry is in an economic crisis.”  Sen. Byron Dorgan’s (D-N.D.) American Travel Industry Stabilization Act (cost:  $5 billion) and Rep. Alcee Hastings’s (D-Fla.) corresponding legislation, the Ancillary Airline Industry Relief Act (cost:  $4 billion), would fund these requests.

Taxpayers would be naïve to think the steel industry would miss out on opportunity to increase the $500 million in government subsidies it already receives.  The industry has asked for increased duties on international competitors and indicated it wants an additional $10 billion in grants and loans.

Finally, there are the “economic stimulus” packages being paraded around Capitol Hill.  The worst has to be Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) vague plan to add $20 billion to appropriations bills for public works.  (How much will go to paving the rest of West Virginia?)  Runner-up is Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) $27 billion infrastructure plan, which includes $5 billion requested by the highway lobby for roads and bridges and $300 billion for ferry terminals.

For attempting to pad their bottom lines at the expense of taxpayers and national security, CAGW awards its November Porker of the Month to the Beltway Special Interests.


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