Congress is spending its lame-duck session trying to pass the remainder of its funding bills before heading home for the holidays. In order to spread some Christmas cheer, lawmakers have stuffed the budgetary goose with plenty of pork, including a measure that Senator John McCain dubbed the No Shrimp Left Behind Act:
The spending plan awaiting President Bush's signature is packed with them, doling out $4 million for an Alabama fertilizer development center, $1 million each for a Norwegian American Foundation in Seattle and a "Wild American Shrimp Initiative," and more, much more.
Despite soaring deficits, lawmakers from both parties who approved the $388 billion package last weekend set plenty of money aside for home-district projects like these, knowing they sow goodwill among special interests and voters.
They also raised the ire of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a pork-barrel critic who took to the Senate floor to ask whether shrimp are so unruly and lacking initiative that the government must spend $1 million on them.
"Why does the U.S. taxpayer need to fund this `no shrimp left behind' act?" he asked.
While I found his book mostly tedious and self-congratulatory, Joe Scarborough described the budget process accurately in Rome Wasn't Burnt In A Day. The GOP had initially tried to rein in the pork after its "revolution" carried them to power in 1994; budget discipline was a key plank in Newt Gingrich's Contract With America. Unfortunately, Newt overplayed his hand in 1995 when he shut down the federal government over spending policy, and ever since the GOP has porked it up just as badly as the Democrats.
Here's a partial list of the fabulous programs for which we'll be spending our money:
Among items in the package: $335,000 to protect North Dakota's sunflowers from blackbirds, $2.3 million for an animal waste management research lab in Bowling Green, Ky., $50,000 to control wild hogs in Missouri, and $443,000 to develop salmon-fortified baby food. ... Ohio Reps. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a Democrat, and Steven LaTourette, a Republican, boasted about $350,000 for music education programs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
A presidential line-item veto would cure this to some extent, although it also would provide the executive with a heavy hammer with which to beat up its political opponents. The trade-off might be justified in the savings it would create. The issue of balancing power between the two branches seems to me to be moot, since the legislature refuses to police itself in this regard. However, thanks to old porkers like Robert Byrd, any attempt to resuscitate the line-item veto outside of a Constitutional amendment are likely to fail at the Supreme Court, which struck down the last attempt.
Now that the election is over, Bush could finally sharpen his veto pencil and send this embarrassment back to Congress. It's time to get back to serious budget discipline as a companion piece to tax cuts.