FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Pork War

It was business as usual last month as the Senate loaded pork into the spending bill President George W. Bush requested for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bill that the Senate passed on April 21 was crammed with essential war-fighting treasures like $500,000 to study wind energy in North and South Dakota, $20 million for a fish hatchery in Fort Peck, Mont., $26 million to move nuclear materials out of New Mexico into Nevada, and $4 million for West Virginia’s Upper Tygart Watershed Project.

But the bill was not routine. It signaled the Senate’s descent to new depths, for these measures were not added to the annual defense authorizations and appropriations bills, but to a so-called emergency supplemental. Worse, some of these irrelevant items actually were included at the expense of legitimate military operational needs.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a self-described “pork buster,” condemned the legislative riders and listed the dubious projects, promising to impede the pork parade by posing parliamentary objections to senators’ requests for “unanimous consent” to accelerate the adoption of their amendments.

Yet, as happened before, McCain failed to keep his promise, and the amendments he criticized were adopted at warp speed using – you guessed it – unanimous consent. “Pork buster?” I think not. Try “pork enabler.”

It was the president’s fourth such submission to pay for the fighting since the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003. These requests are “emergency” only because Bush seeks them at the last possible minute to conjure what passes for fast action in Congress, and because he likes to dodge tallying up the costs when he submits his regular annual budget.

However, it is notable that until now, Congress has been remarkably disciplined at keeping the junk out of the war supplementals. In the first three, one had to search long and hard to find special interest running amok.
Plunging to new depths for duplicity is a description of the bill from a staff spokesperson for the Senate Appropriations Committee. As noted in the April 17 Los Angeles Times, we are told “any amendments came as an afterthought and did not take away money from the troops.”

Afterthought? According to the Congressional Budget Office, the amendments added by the Senate cost $1.2 billion.

It’s not just the casual dismissal of the cost, but another aspect the press has universally missed. The bill reported to the Senate by the Appropriations Committee cut $1.5 billion from the president’s request. To effect that reduction, the committee cut more than $600 million out of the Operation and Maintenance title of the bill, $500 million of it in Army operations for fighting the war. That allowed the addition of more pork and irrelevancies while still keeping the bill below Bush’s initial request.

Worse, some amendments did not add spending but simply gobbled up funds the president intended for the troops and other wartime uses to pay for the junk. In this light, consider the assertion that the amendments “did not take away money from the troops.” Next we shall hear a pious declamation that the Senate exercised restraint by keeping the bill below the president’s version.

There are reasons for this deteriorating behavior.

First, it should be noted that the Senate is under new control. Today’s majority leader, Bill Frist, R-Tenn., attempted no meaningful restraint over his rampaging colleagues. (He did act to shut down a filibuster on the emergency supplemental, but one wasn’t occurring). He was likely more focused on the controversy over his videotaped appearance before religious conservatives, and advancing his presidential ambitions and promising to help end Democratic filibusters against Bush’s judicial nominees. In short, he was letting one form of Senate excess slide while he was advancing another.

Also worthy of mention is the Senate Appropriations Committee’s new chairman, Thad Cochran, R-Miss. I never thought that someone could outdo former Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens for porking up appropriations bills, but Cochran has put himself at the summit of that tall mountain.

Stevens doubled and redoubled the pork in defense appropriations bills, now at over $9 billion per annum, but he did at least insist that the war supplementals be kept clean. No more. Unwilling to wait for the next defense spending bill in May, Cochran led the way into the trough with a provision guaranteeing Mississippi’s Pascagoula shipyard work on the Navy’s new DD(X) destroyer by prohibiting competition. He also packed in a sewage treatment plant for DeSoto County, Miss, for $55 million.

Credit also the Senate’s Democrats. Not one had the minimal character or political acumen of pork enabler McCain to at least criticize the pork fest. The thought that one of them could make him–or herself a real “pork buster” by genuinely blocking the glut seems to have utterly escaped them.

Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have now added emergency war supplementals to their long list of legislative vehicles exploited to advance their personal politics with the voters back home. While touting their support for the troops in combat and their families, the Senate is literally advocating raids on war-fighting accounts to pay for pork.

Pending resolution of the fight over filibusters and judges, the Senate is scheduled to debate the new 2006 National Defense Authorization Act this week. That creates an opportunity to reverse the explosion of pork spending and selfishness that has characterized Senate behavior since Sept. 11, 2001. However, it would also require senators to match their deeds to their words.

WINSLOW T. WHEELER is a visiting senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information. He contributed an essay on the defense budget to CounterPunch’s new book: Dime’s Worth of Difference.

Wheeler’s book, “The Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages U.S. Security,” is published by the Naval Institute Press.

This column originally appeared in DefenseNews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight.  He spent 31 years working for the Government Accountability Office and both Republican and Democratic Senators on national security issues.

Weekend Edition
February 22, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Timothy M. Gill
Why is the Venezuelan Government Rejecting U.S. Food Supplies?
John Pilger
The War on Venezuela is Built on Lies
Andrew Levine
Ilhan Omar Owes No Apologies, Apologies Are Owed Her
Jeffrey St. Clair
That Magic Feeling: the Strange Mystique of Bernie Sanders
David Rosen
Will Venezuela Crisis Split Democrats?
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump’s National Emergency Is The Exact Same As Barack Obama’s National Emergency
Paul Street
Buried Alive: The Story of Chicago Police State Racism
Rob Seimetz
Imagined Communities and Omitting Carbon Emissions: Shifting the Discussion On Climate Change
Ramzy Baroud
Russian Mediation: The Critical Messages of the Hamas-Fatah Talks in Moscow
Michael Welton
Dreaming Their Sweet Dreams: a Peace to End Peace
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming’s Monster Awakens
Huma Yasin
Chris Christie Spins a Story, Once Again
Ron Jacobs
Twenty-First Century Indian Wars
Robert Fantina
The U.S. and Venezuela: a Long History of Hostility
Lance Olsen
Climate and Money: a Tale of Two Accounts
Louis Proyect
El Chapo and the Path Taken
Fred Gardner
“She’s Willie Brown’s Protogé!” The Rise of Kamala Harris
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Biomass is Not “Green”: an Interview With Josh Schlossberg
John Feffer
Answering Attacks on the Green New Deal
W. T. Whitney
US Racism and Imperialism Fuel Turbulence in Haiti
Kim Ives
How Trump’s Attacks on Venezuela Sparked a Revolution in Haiti
Mike Ferner
What War Films Never Show You
Lawrence Wittner
Should the U.S. Government Abide by the International Law It Has Created and Claims to Uphold?
James Graham
A Slow Motion Striptease in France
Dave Lindorff
Could Sanders 2.0 Win It All, Getting the Democratic Nomination and Defeating Trump?
Jill Richardson
Take It From Me, Addiction Doesn’t Start at the Border
Yves Engler
Canada and the Venezuela Coup Attempt
Tracey L. Rogers
We Need a New Standard for When Politicians Should Step Down
Gary Leupp
The Sounds of Silence
Dan Bacher
Appeals Court Rejects Big Oil’s Lawsuit Against L.A. Youth Groups, City of Los Angeles
Robert Koehler
Are You White, Black or Human?
Ralph Nader
What are Torts? They’re Everywhere!
Cesar Chelala
The Blue Angel and JFK: One Night in Camelot
Sarah Schulz
Immigrants Aren’t the Emergency, Naked Capitalism Is
James Campbell
In the Arctic Refuge, a Life Force Hangs in the Balance
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Corregidor’s Iconography of Empire
Jonah Raskin
The Muckraking Novelist Dashiell Hammett: A Red Literary Harvest
Kim C. Domenico
Revolutionary Art and the Redemption of the Local
Paul Buhle
Life and Crime in Blue Collar Rhode Island
Eugene Schulman
J’Accuse!
Nicky Reid
Zionists are the Most Precious Snowflakes
Jim Goodman
The Green New Deal Outlines the Change Society Needs
Thomas Knapp
Judicial Secrecy: Where Justice Goes to Die
February 21, 2019
Nick Pemberton
Israel, Venezuela and Nationalism In The Neoliberal Era
Chris Orlet
The Bill and Melinda Gates’ Fair Taxation Scaremongering Tour
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail