Hey, Big Spenders
By Vin Suprynowicz
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
Surely, when Bill Clinton campaigned on a promise to seek the presidential line-item veto (a pledge he did nothing to fulfill once elected, but which was enacted by the obliging 1994 Republican Congress anyway), most voters got the impression the thing was intended to allow the president to excise unnecessary or unconstitutional expenditures, in hopes of reducing overall spending.
How naive are the hoi-polloi, who have not yet learned to see the world through Washington's kaleidoscope eyes.
Former congressional budget director Robert Reischauer now predicts that a re-elected Bill Clinton "could use the veto in some dramatic ways."
Mr. Reischauer, apparently, does not mean "dramatic" in the sense that federal spending would fall away like hedge clippings in the path of Edward Scissorhands.
Rather, the Beltway insiders figure Mr. Clinton will use the threat of cutting favorite Republican boondoggles -- government subsidies to big corporations, say -- to twist the arms of the Republican leadership into supporting his favorite boondoggles -- government subsidies to psychiatric clinics, cable TV for unwed moms.
The end result? Presumably, Republicans would assent to the Clintons' new spending initiatives, in return for Mr. Clinton's promise to sheath his dreaded red pen. Thanks to the line item veto, overall federal spending would actually accelerate.
Unfortunately, the current behavior of the Republican-led Congress does little to persuade me such a bluff wouldn't work.
When Congress approved a $389 billion spending measure in late September, financing nine Cabinet level departments and scores of other agencies for fiscal 1997 (which began Oct. 1), Omnibus Spending Bill HR 3610 made headlines primarily because its 11th-hour passage averted any replay of last year's partial federal shutdowns.
"But as is the custom on Capitol Hill," observed Associated Press writer Alan Fram, "the must-pass measure became a haven for hundreds of little-noticed, home-district projects for lawmakers of both parties and the Clinton administration." The supposedly tight-fisted Republicans thus "allowed (the budget) to return nearly back to its 1995 levels."
Among the spending items, of course, was "Treasury-Postal Section 657," which recreates the very "gun-free school zones" thrown out by the Supreme Court last year. I'll be writing more on "The return of the Gun Grab" next week.
But when it comes to plain old wasteful spending, how about new multi-million dollar federal loans designed to help closed shipyards "modernize and reopen"?
Congress struggled for decades to come up with a system to close down out-of-date military facilities, sidestepping the otherwise inevitable machinations of congressman protecting local "jobs" programs.
Among the facilities finally ordered closed were the Revolutionary War-era shipyards in Philadelphia and in Quincy, Mass.
You guessed it. "Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Kerry's Senate challenger, Massachusetts GOP Gov. William Weld, all have claimed credit for the provision," which could extend to those antiquated facilities a brand new Washington I-V tube.
Also larded in between the red meat was $3 million for a George Bush fellowship program for Texas A&M University, inserted by Texas GOP Reps. Henry Bonilla and Joe Barton, and another $3 million to begin building the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park as a going-away gift to retiring Sen. Bennett Johnston, D-La.
New parks in Oregon, anyone? How about authorization to spend more Drug War money in 11 newly-designated "high intensity drug-use areas," including those well-known battlegrounds of the warring Colombian cocaine cartels: Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota?
The bill allocates $3 million sought by Sen. Specter for a Pennsylvania vocational education program, even though the courts declared the state ineligible for the money. It allocates $1 million for the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation in the former president's hometown of Plymouth, Vt. The list goes on and on.
Pay attention, now: Only Congress can authorize federal spending. The Republican Party controls a majority of votes in both houses of Congress. If the GOP were still a party with any discernible principles, its best answer to any Clinton threat to "shut down the government" in lieu of rubber-stamping such porkfat would be: "Oh please, Br'er Bubba, please don't throw us in the briar patch!"
Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/. The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.
Pallas, the new sci-fi adventure novel by L. Neil Smith is out in paperback from Tor. Is there room for a socialist utopia on an individualist asteroid?
Now available at good bookstores everywhere!
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