The nation is at a
crucial crossroads for conservative governance. Hurricanes Katrina
and Rita will test whether Congress and the President can respond
to such disasters responsibly by prioritizing the federal
government's obligations. The President is to be commended for his
call to cut other spending in order to pay for the hurricanes. He
should stay the course and work with Congress to achieve this goal.
Policymakers who are serious about controlling spending must now
take two critical steps:
- Members of
Congress must reject all earmarked projects and redirect the
savings to pay for disaster recovery and rebuilding. If Congress
lacks the will to do this, the President should veto any
legislation that contains earmarks.
- Congress must
postpone implementation of the unaffordable Medicare prescription
All Americans are
committed to encouraging a renaissance in the Gulf Coast regions
affected by the hurricanes. While the most innovative and effective
ideas for bringing prosperity to the Gulf Coast region will come
from the private sector, the federal government will also play a
role in this process. The question is: Will Congress and the
President act responsibly when it comes to paying for the federal
Congress Must Reject
"Earmark" is the
innocuous name given to a piece of pork-barrel spending. One reason
federal spending has grown is that Members of Congress use earmarks
to fund specific projects, businesses, and local governments, and
this habit has grown out of control in recent years.
redirect earmarked spending in the recent highway bill to pay for
rebuilding infrastructure in the Gulf Coast. These 6,000-plus
earmarks, costing $25 billion, epitomize much of what is
objectionable about runaway federal spending. These projects
usually have nothing to do with improving national transportation
infrastructure, blanket the nation across almost all congressional
districts, and include projects like pedestrian, bike, and horse
trails, trolley cars, parking garages, and an infamous $220 million
bridge that will serve a 50-person village in Alaska.
The highway bill
give-back proposal has resonated throughout the country. Americans
recognize that it is irresponsible for Members of Congress to spend
money on pet projects when those funds could be better spent on
infrastructure in the Gulf Coast. In response to Katrina, citizens
donated their money and their time in record numbers and made great
sacrifices to do so. Members of Congress should to do the same. Any
Member who is serious about controlling spending must be willing to
redirect these funds to this major national priority.
must reject attempts to attach earmarks to hurricane-related
legislation and must also adopt a moratorium on earmarks in all
appropriations bills that remain to be considered this year. The
total level of spending in those bills must then be reduced
accordingly. Last year, earmarks in appropriations bills alone cost
$27 billion and included therapeutic horseback riding, the Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame, and mariachi music.
Lawmakers who continue to insist on earmarking taxpayer funds to
pet pork projects in the aftermath of these disasters are not
responsible. No lawmakers can call themselves fiscally responsible
if they respond to disaster by earmarking taxpayer funds for such
This is a clear
line in the sand: Members of Congress should rescind the
pork-barrel projects already passed in the recent transportation
bill, reject all future earmarks in appropriation bills, and
redirect the savings to pay for hurricane relief and
Leadership on Spending
The President must
bring leadership to spending control. He has rightly called on
Congress to find spending offsets to pay for the government's
commitment. He referred Congress to spending cuts in his last
budget proposal, including reductions for mandatory spending and
inefficient programs, and vowed to work closely with Congress to
find additional offsets. The Administration has met with Rep. Mike
Pence (R-IN) and the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC),
which has offered up an extensive menu of offset options for
Congress to consider. The President should urge Congress to give
serious consideration to all of these recommendations.
President has yet to veto a single bill or submit a single request
for Congress to rescind spending. He must give an iron-clad promise
that he will veto any bill with earmarks that reaches his desk,
whatever the bill's subject. The President cannot compromise on
this point if his call for a fiscally disciplined response to
Katrina and Rita is to be taken seriously.
Spending Under Control
Americans from across the political spectrum know that we will soon
witness an explosion in the size of the federal government as a
result of rapidly growing federal entitlement programs such as
Social Security and Medicare.
takes steps now to reform entitlement programs, it will have to
hike taxes by more than one-third in just a decade to meet these
programs' promises. Sharp tax hikes will continue well beyond then
just to keep pace with this spending.
The effect on our nation's economic growth and prosperity will be
severe. European-level taxes will lead to European-style stagnation
and European-style double-digit unemployment.
delay implementation of the Medicare prescription drug benefit for
one year, at the very least, in order to determine how to pay for
it without raising taxes or if it should be substantially
revised. A year's delay would save nearly $33 billion. If lawmakers
are sincere about bringing spending under control, they must
restrain themselves from adding another $8 trillion to the nation's
already unaffordable long-term debt. There can be no free pass on
expanding the size and scope of government.
These two lines in
the sand-eliminating all earmarks and delaying implementation of
the Medicare prescription drug benefit-are critical steps toward
fiscally responsible government. They will serve as a test of
whether the nation's elected officials are actually serious about
controlling federal spending. In the months ahead, there will be an
ongoing debate about Congress's response to Katrina, and Americans
will hold Members of Congress to this standard.
J. Feulner, Ph.D., is President of The Heritage Foundation,
Acosta Fraser is Director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for
Economic Policy Studies.