Monday, August 08, 2005

To the Feds, $11 Billion in stealth pork is just chump change.

Editorial: Highway measure deserves Bush veto

San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

When is $8.5 billion equal to nothing? When Congress passes a bloated highway bill and wants the American people to think it's being frugal with taxpayer money.

Before the senators and representatives departed for their August recess, they passed — by overwhelming margins — an eye-boggling transportation measure that carries a price tag of $286.4 billion.

At least that's the official number.

Watchdog groups found a little accounting chicanery in the 1,000-page highway bill, along with a lot of pork. It turns out there's an extra $8.5 billion in spending tucked into the legislation that's not part of the official $286.4 billion figure.

Congress accomplished this by using a budgetary device known as rescission. It requires lawmakers to pay back the extra spending to the Treasury when the bill expires. That's in 2009, when a different Congress and a different president are unlikely to feel bound by the accounting exigencies of 2005.

Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican and one of only eight House members to vote against the measure, railed against the numbers game.

"The transportation bill," Flake said on the House floor, "ought to carry the same warning that drivers see on their rearview mirror: Items are larger than they appear."

Meanwhile, as groups such as Taxpayers for Common Sense point out, the bill is stuffed with 6,371 pork-barrel earmarks worth $23 billion. Topping the list of boondoggles are two bridges in Alaska, one modestly named for House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, costing more than $450 million.

The transportation legislation is officially $2.4 billion over the $284 billion limit a veto-threatening White House had put on the congressional spending spree — $11 billion over, if you add in the rescission.

Despite his bluff and bluster, President Bush is unlikely to wield his first-ever veto on the highway bill. That's unfortunate, because this legislative monstrosity deserves it.

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