June 17, 2002 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

A Matter of National Security?

When the president asks Congress for a "supplemental appropriation"-extra money, in layman's terms-it means a crisis is at hand.

It means problems have arisen that are so severe they can't wait for the normal budget cycle, which begins Oct. 1. And so they have: President Bush wants an additional $27 billion to fund the war on terrorism.

Congress is about to approve his request. But now the president is threatening a veto.

One look at the bill explains why: It's larded with an amount of pork that's extreme even by the standards of official Washington.

The culprit in this instance is the Senate. The House of Representatives-which has approved more than its share of pork in the past-did the right thing this time and passed the president's request almost intact.

Not so the Senate. The lawmakers in that chamber apparently believe that the war on terrorism must include $700,000 for a "biomass" (human waste) project at Mississippi State University. And $2 million to store the Smithsonian's collection of worms and other organisms in an alcohol solution. And $750,000 for the Smart Start Child Care Center and Expertise School in Las Vegas.

What do these initiatives have to do with fighting terror? Good question.

Not that the Senate does nothing but spend, mind you. Lawmakers did hold the line against some of the president's requests. They turned down $12.5 million for a foreign terrorist tracking task force and $3.6 million to beef up the U.S. Capitol Police. Yes, items that might actually help thwart terrorists.

But they found plenty of other items that somehow couldn't wait until October. According to the Senate, we won't survive the summer unless we give $34 million to the United Nations population fund, $412,000 to the Fish and Wildlife Service's National Conservation Training Center and $765,000 to the Clark R. Bavin National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Oregon.

We'll never make it to football season without spending $11 million to assist the New England fishing industry and $2.5 million to map coral reefs off Hawaii and $1 million to convert subsidized housing to student housing in Baltimore and $3 million to drill five wells in Santa Fe, N.M.

We'll never see the leaves turn colors unless we give $43 million to Amtrak, whose officers say it may fold as early as July.

And it turns out that America's agribusiness giants-recipients only a few weeks ago of the largest corporate welfare package in the nation's history-won't live to see the end of harvest season without more "emergency" assistance. Their requests include requiring the Agriculture Department to fully fund a "Dog Dealers Task Force" to report violations in puppy breeding and sustaining research on tracheal mites and honeybees.

And it seems we're supposed to believe that dire things may happen if we don't-right now, before October, with spending already out of control-spend $2 million for more research on mad cow disease, $3 million for cattle genome sequencing, $50 million to renovate the National Animal Disease Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, $19 million for animal health surveillance and $21.6 million for pest detection.

Some of these projects may be worth funding. But emergencies?

It would be bad enough if all this bill represented was the failure of Congress to recognize the frustration most Americans feel watching their hard-earned dollars wasted on pork-if it was another example of how policies designed to produce fiscal sanity are wantonly thwarted and the concept of "emergency spending" is twisted beyond recognition.

The problem is: We do have an emergency. It needs to be dealt with. And this certainly isn't the way to do it.

Brian Riedl is the Grover M. Hermann fellow in federal budgetary affairs at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), where Ronald Utt is a senior research fellow.

About the Author

Brian M. Riedl Grover Hermann Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs
Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D. Herbert and Joyce Morgan Senior Research Fellow

Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire