September 15, 2005

September 15, 2005 | WebMemo on Federal Budget

Congress Faces Pressure to Surrender Pork for Flood Relief

Shortly after 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.[1] 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.[2]


Support for 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.[3] 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."[4]


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.[5]


Majority Leader 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 cutting spending.[6] 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 States.


Ronald 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.

[1] See Brian M. Riedl, "A "Victory" Over Wasteful Spending? Hardly," Heritage Foundation Webmemo No. 839, September 14, 2005, at

[2] See Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D., "The Katrina Relief Effort: Congress Should Redirect Highway Earmark Funding to a Higher Purpose," Heritage Foundation Webmemo No. 832, September 2, 2005, at

[3] See Wall Street Journal, "A 'Moronic' Proposal," September 14, 2005, p. A20.

[4] See, e.g., Aan Kadax Tseen, "Gravina Island, Desecration Bridge," letter, Stories in the News (Ketchikan, Alaska), September 12, 2005, at

[5] See Wall Street Journal, "A 'Moronic' Proposal," September 14, 2005, p. A20.

[6] Amy Fagan and Stephen Dinan, "Delay declares 'victory' in war on budget fat," The Washington Times, Sept. 14, 2005, at

About the Author

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

Related Issues: Federal Budget