I was pleasantly surprised by Sen. John McCain's recent comments on the floor of the Senate regarding the $375 billion Omnibus appropriations bill. Speaking of the profligate nature of the supporting legislators, McCain proclaimed: "It appears that the big spenders in this body have all but stolen the credit card numbers of every hard-working taxpayer in America and have gone on a limitless spending spree for parochial pork-barrel projects, leaving Americans to pay and pay."
That was just the beginning.
Then the Arizona Republican added, "It is no accident that we are dealing with this bill in an election year. In fact, I strongly suggest that we change the name of this bill to 'The Incumbent Protection Act of 2004."'
It was an ironic statement coming from the co-author of the campaign finance legislation that made it much more difficult for challenger candidates to raise money and interest groups to air critical advertisements during the weeks leading up to elections, but accurate nonetheless.
McCain is right to be alarmed. While most Republicans are touting the appropriations package as a moderate 3 percent increase in discretionary spending, the true growth level is much higher. The 3 percent figure was computed using an accounting gimmick that credits new spending to fiscal year 2003.
According to the Heritage Foundation, actual FY 2004 outlays will increase by about 9 percent. This is on top of a 13 percent spending increase in 2002 and a 12 percent increase in 2003.
Among the pet projects McCain exposed in the Omnibus bill are the following:
- $1.8 million for exotic pet disease research in California.
- $50 million for an indoor rain forest in Iowa (yes, Iowa!).
- $250,000 for an amphitheater park in Illinois.
- $200,000 for the West Oahu campus of the University of Hawaii for the making of a documentary film called "Primal Quest."
- $225,000 for the Wheels Museum in New Mexico.
- $7.3 million for Hawaiian sea turtles.
- $6 million for sea lions in Alaska.
- $450,000 for the Johnny Appleseed Heritage Center in Ohio.
- $100,000 for the State Historical Society of Iowa for the development of the World Food Prize.
- $200,000 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland for the Rockin' the Schools education program.
- $1 million to fight Mormon-cricket infestations in Utah.
- $450,000 for an Alaska statehood celebration.
- $225,000 for a Hawaii statehood celebration.
- $175,000 for the painting of a mural on a flood wall in a Missouri city.
- $90,000 for fruit-fly research in Montpellier, France (yes, France!).
- $225,000 for the restoration of an opera house in Traverse City, Michigan.
- $250,000 for the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum.
- $200,000 for the construction and renovation of a shopping center in Guadalupe, Ark.
- $325,000 for the construction of a swimming pool in Salinas, Calif.
- $100,000 for the renovation of the Coca-Cola building in Macon, Ga.
- $100,000 for the renovation of Paschal's restaurant and motel in Atlanta.
- $900,000 for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial commemoration plan in Idaho.
- $175,000 for the construction of a zoo in Detroit.
- $238,000 for the National Wild Turkey Federation.
- $200,000 for recreational improvements in North Pole, Alaska (a city with a population, as McCain points out, of 1,570, according to the 2000 Census).
- $100,000 for the restoration of the Jefferson County Courthouse clock tower in Washington state.
- $220,000 for the Blueberry Hill Farm in Maine.
- $2 million for the First Tee Program, which teaches young people to play golf.
- $40 million for the construction of a cargo terminal in the Port of Philadelphia designed to support "high-speed military sea lift and other military purposes," vessels that, as McCain notes, "do not even exist, nor are they being championed by the military."
Add to all this $278 million in "economic development initiatives" contained in the HUD portion of the bill. According to McCain, "Every single dime of that $278 million was served up as pork. ... The appropriators dished out 902 earmarks for everything from theater renovations in Jenkintown, Pa., to quarry updates in Nome, Alaska."
These examples are but a small fraction of the pork-barrel spending contained in the legislation, which McCain estimates at $11 billion.
Not surprisingly, the Senate easily passed the bill by a vote of 65-28. The House of Representatives passed the same version back in December by a comfortable 242-176 margin.
In his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush affirmed, "We should limit the burden of government on this economy by acting as good stewards of taxpayer dollars." Perhaps he should take his own advice.
Despite his fiscal responsibility rhetoric, Bush signed the pork-laden Omnibus appropriations bill, saying it "stays within the spending limits that I proposed." If Bush is truly concerned about being such a "good steward" of taxpayer dollars, he might consider dusting off that unused veto pen that has been taking up space in his Oval Office desk these past three years.
Irresponsible spending bills do not become law without his consent. It is time the president accepted some of the culpability for sanctioning them.
Adam Summers is a policy analyst at Reason Foundation.