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July 23, 2004
Hundreds Of Billions Of Dollars

Congress approves $417 billion defense bill

Actually, it's $417.5 billion. Billion! I mean, we're talking hundreds of billions of dollars.

Sounds like a lot of bullets money when you see it all at once, doesn't it?

And a ten billion dollar "military construction" bill which, whatever else it covers, apparently won't be covering expanded housing for military families.

The bill cuts funds for NASA, environment and science programs and increases veterans health care to $30.3 billion -- still $1.3 billion less than veterans' groups want. By voice vote, lawmakers added more than 1,100 home-district projects to the measure, including $250,000 for Banning, California, to build a municipal pool and $900,000 for work on the Salvador Dali museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

For a moment I was speechless. Then of course I remembered that pork has always been a part of these budget bills. $900,000 sounds like a lot of money to a real person, but it's chump change to the government.

Dropped was House-passed language requiring the Pentagon to reveal the private security contractors it hires for work in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba -- an outgrowth of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.

Well, that scandal didn't last very long, did it? I'm glad they didn't inconvenience themselves by actually pushing through some kind of reform or something.

It also rejected, 29-26, a Democratic proposal to bar Treasury contracts for companies that have avoided some U.S. taxes by moving their offices overseas.

Yeah, because I totally want my tax dollars pouring into the coffers of countries that don't pay taxes thmselves.

And, just to round out the picture of a government going rapidly off the rails, we also learn that Congress is keeping the infamous "School of the Americas" alive.

Posted by AnneZook at 07:41 AM


The bill cut money for NASA? Does this Bush doesn't want to go to Mars anymore?

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at July 25, 2004 01:30 PM

NASA is funded in a different appropriations bill - the VA/HUD one I believe. That bill hasn't gone to conference yet between the House and Senate, but here is a clip from a House release:

NASA is funded at $15.1 billion, $229 million below last year and $1.1 billion below the request. The bulk of these savings come from the elimination of funding for new initiatives. The reductions include $30 million for technology maturation efforts; $230 million from Project Prometheus related to Jupiter Icy Moon Orbital; $438 million resulting from delaying the Crew Exploration Vehicle; and $100 million from Space Launch Initiatives by accelerating the termination of activities. The bill fully funds shuttle operations at the requested level of $4.3 billion. The committee fully funds Mars programs at the requested level of $691 million.

I think the WH has threatened the President may veto the bill if some of those "initiatives" aren't restored by the conference committee.

One of the cost saving measures with the Mars project is making it one-way - volunteers?

Posted by: Col Steve at July 25, 2004 11:21 PM

I've wondered sometimes if there would be economic efficiency gains if the President made a push for "structured pork." That is, allow pork but demand that it conform to some national priority. This could be a pretty loose constraint, yet still possibly bring some benefits. Suppose getting to Mars was a national priority. The President could insist that most pork have something to do with getting to Mars - that could be fairly wide open, like grants to the local university to do more research on some as yet unsolved technical problem, like dealing with osteoporosis in space, or how to improve spectral analysis of far away objects.

Or, more obviously, you could insist that education was a national priority, and insist that all pork do something to improve education.

Could such a constraint be imposed and still have pork fulfill its political purpose? Would it make pork even worse, as a social ill? Would it make it better? I've wondered.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at July 26, 2004 02:13 PM

I think the problem would be mental. (Or do I mean psychological?)

If you start codifying pork and qualifying it as "appropriate" under certain circumstances, then it will be perceived as legitimate budgetary spending.

After that, a whole new category of "pork" would evolve and we'd just wind up with double the amount of "pork."

I mean, we recently read about the attachment of approval to use federal funds to build a swimming pool somewhere. It's unlikely in the extreme that that would fit under any "structure," but that won't stop the representative from wanting to get it funded, or the leadership from helping her/him find a way to fund it in return for his/her vote on some issue.

Posted by: Anne at July 27, 2004 08:20 AM

"After that, a whole new category of "pork" would evolve and we'd just wind up with double the amount of "pork.""

Good point.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at July 27, 2004 10:21 AM

I was wondering if you could just come up with an allotment proportionate to the size of one's district (or a fixed % for senators) - but tie the entire "pork pool" to a performance metric on the overall size of the budget relative to (real) GDP growth (to take inflation into account).

So, if GPD grew by 4%, but the final budget only grew by 3%, then the "pool" would be an extra 1% to divy up based on the formula. States or districts would submit "wish lists" approved by the Gov/legislature and the spending could only be on items on those lists.

This might cause some strange alliances, especially among folks representing big districts but w/o the seniority to sit on the big pork committees (ie. Appropriations)..

I suspect though that they would find away to change the accounting to though..you know, make something idiot proof and they'll invent a better idiot..

Posted by: Col Steve at July 28, 2004 12:16 AM