by Leon Felkins
A great political controversy dominates the news and takes away air time for otherwise fascinating stories such as the little girl softball catcher who refused to wear a cup. According to the TV news "journalists", there are folks up on the Red River flood plains who desperately need funds to rebuild their homes and farms as a result of the recent floods, but when the Congress tried to send them truck loads of money by means of an appropriation bill (H.R. 1469 "The Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill", sponsored by Representative Bob Livingston), the Republicans are alleged to have sabotaged the effort by loading on slabs and slabs of unrelated pork. The Republicans say that (mostly) all they did was tack on a tiny, insignificant clause that makes it illegal for the government to be shut down when a budget cannot be agreed upon.
In any case, Clinton joined in the act too, vetoing the bill initially, only to rubber stamp a minimally altered rework -- saving the citizens from more pork spending or to keep his option of "shutting down" the government -- depending on which story you believe. I will try to provide the facts herein and you can make your own decision. Don't worry, it won't change anything...
The TV talking heads babble on about how the Republicans are -- by attaching "trash" amendments to the appropriation bill -- sabotaging efforts by the Democrats and the President to get the desperately needed funds to the victims of the 1997 Red River Flood up in North Dakota and Minnesota. Being a fan of Rush Limbaugh, I decided to listen to him to get the story straight. Now I am even more confused because Rush says that while there are admittedly a few loosely related amendments, the real problem is the President simply does not want these people to get the funds.
It is obvious that neither the network news nor Rush Limbaugh have the resources sufficient to find out what is going on with this bill. To be specific, the resources necessary would be for someone to actually get a copy of the bill, as amended, and read it. I suppose they are short on funds.
So, as an expression of my compassion for the sorry plight of the research departments of these news agencies and my civic duty, I decided I would get a copy of the damn bill and report on it! It was really tough. I had to log in to Thomas and download the latest copy of H.R.1469. In this essay I will discuss both the contents of this bill and the related political issues.
What an amazing discovery! Would the TV talking heads lie to us? Are their news stories with people living on the street begging for federal help to get a place to sleep, just a scam?. It seems so. In fact, the primary purpose of the bill -- if there is one -- seems to be to provide supplementary appropriations, for FY 1997, to the Department of Agriculture, along with just about every other government agency, to cover expenses they have already incurred (but...the money will come in handy for the hurricane season, said one representative in the floor debate!). It is not like the Department of Agriculture has suddenly expended all it resources and abilities to borrow and are standing on the corner begging for money! It is simply the time honored tradition of government to always ask for more money when there is an emergency -- even if the purpose of the agency is to handle emergencies. Somehow they always underestimate. Lack of staff, probably.
I understand pleading for help, but demanding help based on some lawful right has caught me by surprise. Maybe I was asleep at the time, but I don't recall the chance to vote on this country's conversion to federal socialism. I would think that the individuals themselves, their community, and possibly their state, would be given first chance to solve this disaster.
I realize that to be dripping with compassion for your less fortunate neighbors is absolutely necessary to avoid being stoned by the more compassionate citizens but I am having trouble understanding the concept that forcing -- by the threat of violence -- other people to send their money to the government, somehow qualifies as compassion.
To further complicate the problem, some of the more obscure press (not the Evening News, for sure!) has reported that the residents of the Red River flood plain were not unaware that the river occasionally floods, and, in fact, were offered flood insurance at a premium of excellent value (subsidized, of course).
Just one more point: What if my own humble adobe is struck by lightning and burnt to the ground? Will I be suddenly descended on by hoards of FEMA troops wanting to give me bushels of money "for an unanticipated disaster"? OK, will I get funds if I go apply for them? I won't hold my breath!
What isn't! The thing covers everything from prohibition against doing research on medical uses of marijuana to $500,000 for the restoration of the Paramount Theater in Ashland, Kentucky!
The following list, while it doesn't identify every item in the bill, does try to hit the most ludicrous:
"Overseas Peacekeeping Efforts" -- The first thing the bill does is to provide "EMERGENCY SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE", primarily for Bosnian operations. From this we can see why the bill is nowhere called "The Disaster Relief Bill" by its promoters!
"...the College Station area of Pulaski County, Arkansas shall be eligible for loans and grants available through the Rural Housing Service..."
"...the Secretary of Agriculture shall collect and disseminate, on a weekly basis, statistically reliable information, obtained from cheese manufacturing areas in the United States on prices received and terms of trade involving bulk cheese..."
"...$3,000,000 is provided for allocation by the Attorney General to the appropriate unit or units of government in Ogden, Utah, for necessary expenses, including enhancements and upgrade of security and communications infrastructure, to counter any potential terrorism threat related to the 2002 Winter Olympic games to be held in Utah."
Marine mammals may be taken for later safe release if trapped in fishing gear.
"The President may waive the minimum funding requirements...for activities for the government of Ukraine...if he determines and so reports to the Committees on Appropriations that the government of Ukraine:
(1) has not made progress toward implementation of comprehensive economic reform;
(2) is not taking steps to ensure that United States businesses and individuals are able to operate according to generally accepted business principles; or
(3) is not taking steps to cease the illegal dumping of steel plate."
"...repair or replacement of concession use facilities at Yosemite National Park..."
There is a very long section devoted to the settlement of a dispute involving an Indian reservation.
"The Secretary of the Interior shall, expeditiously after the expiration of the applicable 30 day period under subsection (d)(2), issue a permit for the importation of polar bear parts (other than internal organs) from polar bears taken in sport hunts in Canada before the date of enactment of the Marine Mammal Protection Act Amendments of 1994..."
"For payment to Marissa, Sonya, and Frank (III) Tejeda, children of Frank Tejeda, late a Representative from the State of Texas, $133,600."
"For an additional amount for 'Salaries and Expenses, Botanic Garden', $33,500,000, to remain available until expended, for emergency repair and renovation of the Conservatory."
"For an additional amount for 'Retired Pay', $9,200,000." [for who?]
"FEDERAL-AID HIGHWAYS, (LIMITATION ON OBLIGATIONS), (HIGHWAY TRUST FUND) The limitation under this heading in Public Law 104-205 is increased by $694,810,534..."
"Title I of the Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1997 (Public Law 104-205) is amended under the heading 'Federal Transit Administration--Discretionary Grants' by striking '$661,000,000' and inserting '$661,000'." [We all make mistakes!]
"For an additional amount under the heading 'Departmental Offices, Salaries and Expenses', $1,950,000: Provided, That the Secretary of the Treasury may utilize the law enforcement services, personnel, equipment, and facilities of the State of Colorado, the County of Denver, and the City of Denver, with their consent, and shall reimburse the State of Colorado, the County of Denver, and the City of Denver for the utilization of such law enforcement services, personnel (for salaries, overtime, and benefits), equipment, and facilities for security arrangements for the Denver Summit of Eight being held June 20 through June 22, 1997, in Denver, Colorado..."
"COUNTER-TERRORISM AND DRUG LAW ENFORCEMENT...Of the funds made available under this heading in Public Law 104-208, $16,000,000 shall be available until September 30, 1998 to develop further the Automated Targeting System."
"The Administrator of General Services is authorized to obligate the funds appropriated in Public Law 104-208 for construction of the Montgomery, Alabama courthouse."
"DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS... For an additional amount for 'Compensation and pensions', $928,000,000, to remain available until expended."
"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, of the $1,000,000 appropriated for special purpose grants in Public Law 102-139, for a parking garage in Ashland, Kentucky, $500,000 shall be made available instead for use in acquiring parking in Ashland, Kentucky and $500,000 shall be made available instead for the restoration of the Paramount Theater in Ashland, Kentucky."
"COMMUNITY PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT BLOCK GRANTS FUND
For an additional amount for 'Community development block grants fund', as authorized under title I of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, $500,000,000, of which $250,000,000 shall become available for obligation on October 1, 1997, all of which shall remain available until September 30, 2000, for use only for buyouts, relocation, long-term recovery, and mitigation in communities affected by the flooding..."
"Of the funds appropriated under this head in Public Law 104-204, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development shall enter into a contract with the National Academy of Public Administration not to exceed $1,000,000 no later than one month after enactment of this Act for an evaluation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's management systems."
"The Congress finds the following:
(1) According to a report issued by the General Accounting Office, tuition at 4-year public colleges and universities increased 234 percent from school year 1980-1981 through school year 1994-1995, while median household income rose 82 percent and the cost of consumer goods as measured by the Consumer Price Index rose 74 percent over the same time period.
(2) A 1995 survey of college freshmen found that concern about college affordability was the highest it has been in the last 30 years.
(3) Paying for a college education now ranks as one of the most costly investments for American families.
There is established a Commission to be known as the 'National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education'.
"TRUTH IN LENDING ACT- During the 240-day period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System may make exceptions to the Truth in Lending Act..." [a similar exception was provided to the Endangered Species Act!]
A lengthy section on, "STATE OPTION TO ISSUE FOOD STAMP BENEFITS TO CERTAIN INDIVIDUALS MADE INELIGIBLE BY WELFARE REFORM"
No Statistical Sampling in the Census, please!
"GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN PREVENTION ACT
"An amendment numbered 16 as printed in the Congressional Record to prohibit funding allocated to the Department of Education from being used to develop, plan, or administer any national reading or mathematics testing program for school children."
"An amendment, printed as amendment No. 19 in the Congressional Record of May 14, 1997 to transfer $2 million from Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief funding to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism."
"An amendment to restore $2 million for the establishment of a Law Enforcement Commission. "
"An amendment, to prohibit the use of funds in the bill to be used for the study of the medicinal use of marijuana."
"Provided, That the entire amount shall be available only to the extent that an official budget request...includes designation of the entire amount of the request as an emergency requirement as defined in the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, as amended, is transmitted by the President to the Congress: Provided further, That such amount is designated by Congress as an emergency requirement pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(D)(i) of such Act."
"The Secretary of Defense may enter into an agreement for the lease of Building No. 1,Lexington Blue Grass Station, Lexington, Kentucky..." [under certain restrictions too lengthy to mention]
"none of the funds provided under this heading shall be used for the salmon memorandum of understanding."
"The Bureau of Engraving and Printing...shall not award a contract for Solicitation No. BEP-97-13(TN)... until the General Accounting Office (GAO) has completed a comprehensive analysis of the optimum circumstances for government procurement of distinctive currency paper."
In summary, we must ask, what is this bill really about? Disgustingly, it is just more pork and more of the usual goverment scam. The pork is obvious from the items identified above.
The scam works this way. Yes, the bill does provide funds for replenishment of monies used by government agencies that have been helping the flood victims (actually, far more than just the Red River floods are covered. See Rep. Miller's "thanks" for chipping in over 200 million dollars for Yosemite and other National Forests -- as an example). But the question that every citizen must ask is, "Why do agencies set up to handle emergencies have to have more funds everytime there is an emergency?".
It works this way. The government makes little effort to ancticipate and plan for emergencies. It is not in their best interests to do so. The trillions of dollars we budget for each fiscal year are based on the assumption that not much is going to happen. Then, when there is in fact an "emergency", they dutifully request more funds for this "unanticipated" event (unlike private industry, government workers are actually rewarded for "oversights" and "unanticipated" events). For example, it is well known that there will be major disruptions in computer systems when the year 2000 rolls in due to the year dates being stored in these computers with only 2 digits. The government is doing little to plan and avoid this catastrophe. It is not in their best interests to do so.
This bill profoundly illustrates the defect of the so-called "Balanced Budget". Nearly all of these requests, to the tune of billions of dollars, must be officially declared to be "emergencies", to comply with the Balanced Budget Act. Yes, before the ink is dry on the "Balanced Budget" joke of a bill, they are implementing an escape clause: declare the pork and excess spending as "emergencies" (another one is to declare the item "off budget").
By the way, I could not determine how much the total cost of the bill comes to. In any business, the full cost would be a necessary part of any proposal. Not so, the government. It appears to be in the tens of billions. There are many transfers and "rescissions" that confuse the cost. For more discussion on the costs see the "House Rpt. 105-83".
Did you really think they were serious about having a "balanced budget"?
We encourage you to contact your representatives on this piece of disgusting, but very typical, legislation. A convenient method is the "Contacting the Congress" Web page.
More of Leon's essays may be found on his homepage.