Hurricane Katrina struck, it became apparent that the vast scope of
devastation would require a costly federal relief effort to
supplement the hundreds of millions of dollars already raised
voluntarily from ordinary citizens. Heritage Foundation analysts
suggested that some or all of the funding should come from offsets
in lower-priority federal spending programs that could be
eliminated or postponed.
In particular, we recommended that the $25 billion of pork-barrel
spending recently approved in the highway reauthorization bill
(H.R. 3) be redirected to reconstruct damaged infrastructure in the
hard-hit Gulf Coast communities.
redirecting highway-bill pork gathered steam quickly: Other public
policy organizations endorsed the idea almost immediately; Senators
John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) urged their colleagues to
adopt the plan; and major newspapers such as the New York
Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post
wrote favorably on it. Indeed, the citizens of Bozeman, Montana,
are proposing to return the $4 million they received for a new
parking garage, arguing that the people of the Gulf need the money
more than Bozeman needs a garage.
In Alaska, concerned citizens are barraging local newspapers with
letters to the editor decrying the $320 million that will be wasted
building the state's infamous "Bridge to Nowhere."
While support for
the giveback concept is spreading rapidly across the country, the
response from Members of Congress has been mostly silence. A few
angrily defended the spending and challenged the practicality of
the giveback plan, while others claim that the $2.5 trillion
federal budget contains no low-priority programs or wasteful
spending. In response to questions from the press and pressure from
voters, a spokesman for Highway Committee Chairman Don Young (R-AK)
called the plan "moronic" and defended the highway legislation.
Tom DeLay (R-TX) also weighed in on the possibility of offsetting
emergency spending, whether by cutting highway programs or
otherwise, arguing that "there is simply no fat left to cut in the
federal budget" because the Republicans have done so well in
This is a curious statement, given-among other things-that the
recent highway bill covers 1,227 pages and includes more than 6,000
pork-barrel earmarks. Nonetheless, Rep. DeLay has pledged to enact
offsets if people identify fat in the budget. With that pledge in
mind, this attached
table lists $35 million in earmarks directed to Texas that Mr.
DeLay and other members of the Texas delegation might review for
possible redirection to reconstruction and relief in the Gulf
D. Utt, Ph.D., is Herbert and Joyce Morgan Senior Research
Fellow in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies
at The Heritage Foundation.