October 3, 2001 | Commentary on National Security and Defense
Contrast that spirit of generosity with one that has taken hold
among far too many lobbying groups and special interests in our
nation's capital. Wrapping themselves in the flag, they're hoping
to snag some of the $40 billion that Congress has authorized for
economic relief. The unfortunate precedent set by the $17 billion
bailout of airline shareholders and creditors has encouraged these
lobbyists and their friends in Congress to pull out all the
Politicians from steel-producing states were among the first to
see the attack as a way to demand further restrictions on imports
of less costly foreign steel. "Without steel, we cannot guarantee
our national security," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. "Without
steel, we cannot build from our tragedy." How these goals would be
reached by policies that create shortages and raise prices was
Although no buses were used as weapons and scheduled bus service
received a boost from passengers shifting from planes, the American
Bus Association claimed that the "American motorcoach industry is
in the midst of an economic crisis." Bus owners are asking Congress
for a grant program, low-interest-rate loans, tax credits, repeal
of the federal fuel tax, and a new government program to promote
Apparently oblivious to competing services on the Internet, the
American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) declared that, without
travel agencies, "the nation's travel industry cannot function."
ASTA is seeking $4 billion in grants and no-interest loans.
National security concerns are even being used to help advance a
$167 billion farm subsidy bill that insiders had thought would be
defeated because of its budget-busting impact. Supporters now
contend that "terrorist attacks have bolstered the argument that
food production is a vital national interest." Apparently unaware
that the terrorist attacks were confined to urban areas, trade
associations representing the growers of more than 20 federally
subsidized farm commodities wrote Congress on Sept. 24 that
"farmers, like other industries that Congress has helped since the
terrorist attacks, are suffering economically."
But these appeals pale in comparison to Amtrak's perennial
effort to extract bigger subsidies from government. Facing the
prospect of financial insolvency because of operating losses that
have worsened year after year, Amtrak's supporters see the tragic
attack as an opportunity for a bailout even greater than the one
received by the airlines.
Emphasizing that "our transportation system and economy would be
far stronger and more resilient if we had a world class passenger
rail system," the National Association of Railroad Passengers
(NARP), an Amtrak support group advocating federal subsidies, wants
Congress to pass the High Speed Rail Act of 2001 (taxpayer cost:
$19.1 billion) as well as Amtrak's most recent me-too proposal for
an emergency cash infusion of $3 billion -- an amount well in
excess of its total annual revenues of $2 billion.
But these excesses were only the beginning of a series of
escalating proposals for costly schemes. Within days of the attack,
one senator proposed giving Amtrak $37 billion, while a House
member proposed $70 billion in loans and grants for rail
Sorting through this growing list of demands will be a challenge
for members of Congress as the legitimate needs of real victims are
forced to compete with lobbyists seeking to take advantage of the
catastrophe. America has never faced such circumstances, so there
exist little precedent and no convenient formulas or rules of thumb
to guide Congress in choosing among conflicting demands.
Left with little more than their own good judgment and goodwill, perhaps Congress could gain inspiration from the sacrifices already made by millions of ordinary Americans and, before each decision, simply ask: "Am I serving my country as well as the New York firemen and policemen served their city?"
Ronald D. Utt is a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.
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