Opinion column: Your wasted money

By Elie Dvorin

Citizens Against Government Waste, a government spending watchdog group, recently released its annual Congressional Pig Book Summary. While the yearly report details wasteful pork spending, the CAGW pushes for budget reform to halt fiscal irresponsibility in Congress. To gain a spot in the Pig Book, the particular appropriation is either not competitively awarded, not specifically authorized, only serves a local purpose or greatly exceeds the budget request or funding from the previous year. Although not a requirement, a lot of the pork spending is so ridiculous it becomes comical – until you realize it’s your money that’s paying for this garbage. Here are a few highlights from the 2005 report.

n The Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center Museum is now $100,000 richer thanks to your money and Congress’ drunken sailor routine. For those of you who don’t know, Punxsutawney is home to Phil, the famous groundhog/meteorologist. He may not be as reliable as the guy on the local news, but he’s so much cuter.

n The National Wildlife Turkey Federation in South Carolina now has $469,000 of your money to help promote turkey hunting, turkey eating and I don’t know what else. I misplaced my membership card. ÿ

n The International Fertilizer Center in Alabama raked in $1.7 million. That’s a load of dung if I’ve ever seen it.

n The Tiger Woods Foundation made $100,000. As if Tiger Woods himself couldn’t afford to lay that down.

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n The House of Representatives is adding a gym for its staff members to work out, and you’re helping to foot the $3 million bill.

These are just a few of the 13,997 projects that CAGW laid out totaling $27.3 billion. Some of the wasteful projects are important and many serve a good cause. Nonetheless, it’s not appropriate for Congress to use taxpayer money to fund these projects. If individual congressmen or senators want to donate to these causes, the International Fertilizer Center is always looking for takers.

The inherent problem with budget reform is that Congress is not going to put limits on Congress. It just doesn’t make sense. Granted, there are senators like John McCain who would like to reform the appropriations process to end stupid spending, but for every fiscal conservative in Congress there are a multitude of reckless free spenders. Senators and congressmen benefit from bringing back pet projects and money to their states and districts. When a congressman is facing a tough election, he can take credit for the new park or museum in his district that you’ve paid for. Congress won’t limit itself and the voters won’t vote free spenders out of office, because the voters are the ones directly or indirectly benefiting from these projects and the money coming back to the state or district.

CAGW also issues awards to individual senators who have made it clear that they are not afraid to use your money. The “Hogzilla” Award went to Sen. Ted Stevens for bringing back $646 million to his state of Alaska. The “Flipping the Byrd at the Taxpayer” Award went to Robert Byrd who brought $399 million back to his state of West Virginia. Byrd, the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, and Stevens, the former chairman, are the two longest-serving members in the Senate. It is no coincidence that the two biggest porkers in the Senate are well connected to the Committee. Although the Committee’s leadership can’t just take money back to their states, they have enough clout to essentially get what they want without any serious objection from other committee members.

Any budget reform designed to cut down on wasteful spendingÿis completely unlikely. It’s just not reasonable to believe that congressmen who benefit from freely spending taxpayer money would impose restrictions on the current system, which has no real measures of accountability. Until the public becomes aware of the garbage spending going on in Washington and decides to make fiscal responsibility a voting issue, there will be no change. Until then, open your wallet and shut your mouth.