Appropriations Gone Awry | Citizens Against Government Waste

Appropriations Gone Awry

The WasteWatcher

Traditionally, summer is appropriations season on Capitol Hill. The core twelve spending bills – Agriculture; Commerce/Justice/Science; Defense; Energy & Water; Financial Services; Homeland Security; Interior & Environment; Labor/HHS/Education; Legislative Branch; Military Construction/Veterans Affairs; State/Foreign Operations; and Transportation/Housing & Urban Development – usually have worked their way through the legislative process, and have been signed by the President.

However, this year is different. Intense political disputes, many revolving around the issues of energy costs and off-shore drilling, have ground the process to a halt. None of the appropriations bills have been cleared for the President’s desk, and the only bill that has come to a full vote in either chamber of Congress is the Military Construction-VA spending bill (HR 6599). The action taken on this bill, however, offers a preview of what taxpayers can expect with the eleven remaining bills.

According to the Congressional Quarterly, the bill contains $72.7 billion in discretionary spending, which includes 103 Congressional earmarks with a total of $429.3 million. The bill spends 13 percent more in fiscal year 2009 than it did in FY 2008, and contains $3.4 billion more than the President’s request.

Yet members of the subcommittee are intransigent in their defense of the bill. The bill’s sponsor, Chet Edwards (D-Texas), insists that he will, “fight for a clean VA military construction bill.” The ranking member of the subcommittee, Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), maintains that the subcommittee had designed “informed earmarks.”

However, a quick purview of the bill shows that this is hardly the case.  Among these “informed earmarks” are $11.58 million for a fitness center in Kingsville, Texas, added by Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas). However, there is a private gym four miles away that costs $30 per month, with a $35 initiation fee.  This $11.58 million could pay for the gym memberships of 29,300 service men and women for one year. Also included in the “clean” bill is a $6.8 million added by Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.) for a chapel center at Fort Rucker, Alabama, which already has two separate chapels on its campus.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Az.), who was named a Taxpayer Superhero in 2006, lived up to his title, and proposed an amendment with Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) to strike all of the earmarks sponsored by members of Congress from the bill.  Earmarking members of Congress, however, voted down the bill, by a vote of 63-350.  To add insult to injury, the House agreed on a voice vote to an amendment by Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) to allocate an additional $7 million for alternative fueling stations at VA hospitals. HR 6599 ultimately passed by a widespread margin; the only members voting against the pork-laden bill were Reps. Campbell, Flake, John Duncan (R-Tenn.), and Ron Paul (R-Texas). As if this weren’t enough, the bill has yet to make it’s way through the Senate, where Senators will no doubt add earmarks of their own.

President Bush has threatened to veto the bill unless it offsets the $2.9 billion in spending that go beyond the White House’s request. Yet rather than reduce spending or find offsets, Congress seems to content to wait the executive branch out. Both chambers went on vacation on August 1, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has suggested that the Senate would agree to adjourn with the House on September 26. Reid himself has told The Hill that, “The point is we’re going to have a lot of trouble doing our appropriations bills this year because of the inability of the White House to compromise on anything.”

Should Reid’s predictions hold out, then Congress will be forced to pass a continuing resolution, which provides the government with the core funds needed to fund basic government functions until an appropriations agreement can be reached. Many speculate that Congress is simply waiting the executive out, until the new administration takes over in January 2009.

Still, not all is lost for those fighting wasteful spending. The anti-earmark amendment garnered more votes than any other similar amendment, and the number of congress members who have forsworn earmarks is at all time high. It is a long battle, but progress is slowly being made.

Evan Lisull

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