Jewish World Review Nov. 7, 2001 / 21 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- PATRIOTISM is the last refuge of the scoundrel, it has been said, and never was it more obvious than in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Rescuers were still searching for bodies from the smoldering rubble when lobbyists descended upon Washington like locusts upon the African plain.
What is a genuine national crisis has become an excuse for barbecuing pork. As Jamie Whitten, onetime House Appropriations Committee Chairman, observes: "I never saw a disaster that wasn't also an opportunity."
The airlines led the way, winning almost instantaneous approval of a $15 billion government program, including $5 billion in cash and as much as $10 billion in loan guarantees. Although the industry deserved compensation for its forced shut-down, Congress went on to hold taxpayers accountable for the earlier decline in demand due to the slowing economy.
The airports, naturally, also want help. So do the private railroads and bus companies. Amtrak is demanding far more, even though it has enjoyed a surge in demand. House Transportation and Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) proposes lavishing $70 billion in grants and loans on the government's money-losing rail service.
At least the travel agents are asking for only $4 billion in subsidies. The insurance industry is pushing to off-load almost its entire liability for future terrorist assaults. Hoteliers and restaurants want increased business meal and travel tax write-offs. Rental car firms want help, too, $1.5 billion worth, nearly 10 percent of the industry's annual revenues.
Workers laid off by the hospitality and travel industries are lobbying for aid, about $2 billion worth for airline employees alone. The administration has joined with Democrats to support a multibillion dollar extension of unemployment benefits.
Even the most sympathetic supplicants have gone overboard. Larry Silverstein, who owns the World Trade Center lease, asked for loan guarantees to rebuild even though he is covered by insurance; he later dropped the request.
New York City, the site of the most devastating attacks, quickly won $17.5 billion to help with clean-up and reconstruction. However, Gov. George Pataki (R-N.Y.) has put in a mammoth request for another $54 billion, including money to balance the city and state budgets.
But it isn't only terrorist victims, however distant, who are pleading for assistance. Steelmakers repackaged their earlier proposals; they want $10 billion in grants and loans, as well as punitive duties against their international competitors.
Farmers in search of support for a $170 billion subsidy bill have renamed their legislation the "Farm Security Act." Boeing is running ads lauding its fighters as Congress pumps more money into the military. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union has joined the construction and transportation industries to lobby Congress for a massive public works program to "create" jobs.
"How we're going to pay for all of this is something no one is willing to talk about," worries Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.).
Instead of slopping cash to every interest group that crowds the federal trough, Congress should cut nonessential spending.
Citizens already face a myriad of increased security costs. As both the public and private sectors retool to address the security challenge, Americans cannot afford frivolous spending that only enriches favored political interests.
Even before the terrorist attacks, Democratic congressional leaders made clear their desire to bust the budget caps adopted only in May. And President George W. Bush has agreed to a spending hike of 8 percent next year.
This comes on top of already bloated spending levels. According to Eric Schlect of the National Taxpayers Union, federal outlays have raced upward 22.5 percent since 1995, almost 10 times the rate of inflation.
Part of the problem is pork, wasteful spending intended to buy local votes. Citizens Against Government Waste reports $12.1 billion worth in 1999, $17.7 billion in 2000, and $18.5 billion this year.
Projects include a national memorial for Dr. Seuss. The Oregon Groundfish Outreach program. And $1.5 million to help the city of Birmingham, Ala., pay to repair its statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire.
Worse is corporate welfare. My colleague Stephen Slivinski estimates that business subsidies will run about $87 billion this year, up by almost a third from 1997.
Although President Bush proposed $12 billion in cuts overall, his proposal, reports Slivinski, "also increases some of the largest corporate welfare programs." The list of beneficiaries is a "Who's Who" of Fortune 500 and wannabee companies. Smaller firms also enjoy largesse through the Small Business Administration, which acts as a congressional petty cash drawer.
None of these wasteful programs are warranted in good economic times. They certainly aren't justified in bad times magnified by an international crisis.
America faces an enormous, long-term challenge in responding to the threat of terrorism. This is no time for faux patriots to be carving up the federal pie in their own
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