March 2, 2007

Porking Up The War Bill

I have questioned the use of supplemental appropriations to fund the Iraq war and the general war on terror for quite some time. That approach opens the funding process to even more shenanigans as the bills move through Congress, and it leaves the effort exposed to attacks from the anti-war Democrats, especially now that John Murtha controls defense spending in the House. The Democrats may have retreated on the latter issue for the moment, but Representatives have not lost their taste for pork:

As House Democrats wrangle over details of a $100 billion war spending bill -- including whether restrictions should be placed on troops sent to Iraq -- some members want to add significant money for agricultural relief, Hurricane Katrina reconstruction and other nonmilitary projects.

Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.), who chairs the Agriculture Committee, said yesterday that rural states hit hard by floods, droughts and snowstorms in the past two years need $4 billion in emergency farm relief. And attaching the request to the war bill is the best way to insure they get it, he said.

Members from Gulf states want funds for improving levees in areas devastated by Katrina. And lawmakers from across the country say their states need federal help to cover deficits in a children's health insurance program.

As of yesterday, Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, had agreed to add about $3 billion to the war bill to help close military bases and relocate troops as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process. And he approved an additional $750 million for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, a joint federal and state program that provides health care for six million poor children.

Obey has not agreed to the farm-relief request, according to Democratic aides familiar with the discussions. But Peterson made it clear that conservative Democrats and some Republicans from farming communities would be inclined to support the war bill if it included disaster aid. "A lot of these guys are farm guys," Peterson said. "Disaster relief is important to them."

The Democrats apparently have turned quite cynical about their anti-war passions. If they can't stop the war -- and the Republicans have made it clear that they will not allow it -- then they'll hijack the funding bills in order to get their pet projects funded.

No one can explain why they need to get supplemental funding for these requests anyway. They just finished putting together the spending bills for the budget. Why not include these requests in the normal budget? After all, Hurricane Katrina hit over a year ago, and the Democrats campaigned on the real and perceived shortcomings of the federal response. The BRAC commission issued its report last year. None of these involve unforeseen issues, as should be the case in supplemental legislation.

I seem to recall campaign promises made by Democratic Party leaders that they would "drain the swamp" and start conducting earmark reform once they held the reins in the House. These amendments to the supplemental are worse than the normal pork one sees on spending bills, primarily because of their cost. At a time when the Democrats are puling over the expanding national debt, they're trying to conduct end-arounds to stick $3 billion in farm subsidies and another $750 million in covering an already dysfunctional health-insurance program that can't meet the budget it already has.

It's all the more egregious that House Democrats have hijacked a spending bill intended on supporting our troops in the field in order to bolster their own petty ambitions. They have done so not for any emergent need, but because the spending they want to pass will not stand on its own during a competitive budget process, and they know it. The Democrats had a chance to show that they could reform the budget system in the House, and instead they have demonstrated that they have more interested in making it cash out for themselves.


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