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Pork barrel congress.

The pork barrel, take-care-of-your-own mentality continues to reign supreme in Congress. Never mind all that grandstanding among the politicos in Washington about living within our means and slashing the federal debt. That's the point we made last month in writing about the "Trillion Dollar Fantasies." What we need is a return to citizen legislators who serve only one term and a constitutional amendment calling for a balanced federal budget, thus forcing us to live within our means.

More proof that pork-barreling is deeply ingrained in the legislative budgeting process comes from a special report prepared by the editors of "Congressional Quarterly." It's called "Where the Money Goes--A Comprehensive Guide to the 1994 Spending Choices of Clinton and Congress."

Before the legislators take care of their constituents, they take care of themselves. It takes 40,000 people to help get our 535 senators and representatives through the day. The congressional operation will cost taxpayers as much as $2 billion. That includes the salaries of operators to push their elevator buttons, $250,000 per year to fly flags over the Capitol that members can send to constituents back home, and $800,000 for colorful calendars they can pass out.

A senate chaplain and two employees will cost $172,000. A five-employee "Office of Fair Employment Practices" to handle job-bias complaints of Senate workers will cost $825,000. Why can't they use the same Equal Employment Opportunity Commission the rest of us use?

There's much more. Senate leaders have $725,000 to hire consultants on a temporary basis. One temporary consultant has been on a leader's staff since 1987. We all know former presidents are entitled to a staff. Did you know $417,000 goes to three former Speakers of the House to pay for their staffs?

Part of Vice President Al Gore's job is to sit as President of the Senate. He goes over to preside over close votes. To do that he has a Senate staff of 60 people and a budget of $1.4 million. That's in addition to his White House office budget of $3.3 million and 21 aides.

As the special report points out, "Florida's situation illustrates the personal |read pork barrel~ nature of the appropriations process." Rep William Lehman, a Florida democrat, chaired the House Transportation Appropriation Subcommittee before he retired. The fiscal 1993 transportation bill included 18 projects worth $72.5 million for Florida. The fiscal 1994 version, written after he retired, had only five Florida projects worth $19.5 million. States with appropriators pulled down almost $1.2 billion in 135 projects for their constituencies. The ten states with no representation on the appropriation committees came away with only seven projects worth $30.7 million, the report states.

The current chairman, Democrat Bob Carr of Michigan, admits: "Members who sit day in and day out on a committee learn more clearly what opportunities |pork~ lie in a particular piece of legislation." Critics of the system can complain about "bias" or "exploitation," Carr is reported to have said, or they can try to master it the way the appropriators have. He's right. More than $4 out of $5 appropriated for road and bridge repairs went to states represented by transportation subcommittee members.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, a West Virginia democrat, is notorious for bringing federal largesse to his state. He was quoted as saying, "That's what we are here for."

If those are the rules dictating the conduct of our legislators, changing the players won't help. It'll take the more drastic measure of changing the rules by mandating a balanced budget and going to term limits for legislators.
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Author:Modic, Stanley J.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 1, 1994
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