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August 9, 2006
Haste Makes Waste, Especially In Congress

The lack of progress on appropriations in Congress before the summer break portends a tough fall for porkbusters. The Senate will have to combine appropriations into a single omnibus bill, which will invite amendments and earmarks galore:

Fiscal conservatives in Congress fear the Senate's failure to get a handle on appropriation bills will lead to a pork-barrel spending spree this fall, undermining repeated promises for fiscal reform.

The Senate left for summer recess after completing one of 12 spending bills needed to keep government agencies operating next year, all but assuring the need for an omnibus package, which are typically laden with pet projects never discussed or voted on.

"When you have senators ... who have traditionally used these bills to bring home more than their fair share of the bacon -- and are used to doing that -- without some action by the Senate leadership, this omnibus is sure to be loaded," said Tom Schatz, executive director of Citizens Against Government Waste, a watchdog group.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican, described that scenario as "our worst nightmare" for the more than 90 House members of the Republican Study Committee, the fiscal conservative block bent on controlling spending.

"If for some reason, we can't take this in the regular order, meaning we review each bill individually, House conservatives would ask for a continuing resolution as opposed to an omnibus which are usually a smorgasbord-buffet of pork," Mr. Hensarling said.

The pork equation is well known on omnibus bills. The more funding that gets tied together, the more leverage it produces for passage. Because the government has to get this passed quiuckly in order to continue funding its operations, the legislature doesn't have the time to pick off the amendments and earmarks before bringing it to a vote, and at any rate that task would be gargantuan in an omnibus bill. Realizing this, porksters lard up the bill with as many earmarks as they can, knowing they will get no better opportunity for success.

Hensarling has the right idea. Instead of approving a pork-laden vehicle like an omnibus bill, Congress should instead fund only the most necessary programs on an ongoing basis until a proper appropriations process has concluded. Failing that, the White House should veto it and force Congress to do its job properly.

People wonder about the necessity of a line-item veto process, and question whether it disturbs the balance of power between the two elective branches. This shows why the legislature has earned a greater check against its excesses from the executive, and why the people should insist on its implementation and use. Until Congress takes a more responsible approach to its duties, the executive should protect the system from the corruption, fraud, and waste that pork-barrel spending feeds.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 9, 2006 6:38 AM

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