Thursday, December 20, 2007

3400 pages for the hiding of the pork

Congress, under the gun at the last minute, decided to keep the US government running. They passed a single giant bill authorizing spending for next fiscal year for the entire government. It's nearly a trillion dollars, 3400 pages, and nobody has read it.
I mean, like who can read 3400 pages of the dull obfusticated text in less than a month? This baby went from Congress to President for signature in 24 hours, so it hasn't been read. The only people who know what's in it are the 20 or so staffers who wrote it. Or cut and pasted it together from last year's budget. Major benefit to the insiders, you got plenty of places to hide your pork.
Used to be, Congress would pass one appropriation bill for each executive department, Defense, Agriculture, Education, State, Treasury and so on. They were supposed to pass all appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year. Back in 1964 this actually happened, I was in USAF at the time, and we took notice of these things. By the end of the fiscal year Air Force money was always tight and we waited for the new budget to come down so we could buy beans and bacon and jet fuel and spare parts and all the stuff you need to keep a fighter wing going.
Next year (1965) Congress was a month late, and things got very tight indeed. So for 1966 Uncle Sam moved the end of the fiscal year back a month to give Congress more time to do the appropriations bills. Naturally the appropriation bills were even later. Give 'em more time and they will take more time. This annual slippage kept getting worse.
Some time in the 80's or 90's, Congress just gave up appropriating and started passing "continuing resolutions" at the last minute. A continuing resolution is an act of Congress that says "Keep things running, limit your spending this year to whatever was in last year's appropriation."
Now, they let everything go til the last minute, and then pass a single giant continuing resolution which in reality, puts the power of the purse into the hands of Congressional staffers, and a few well connected lobbyists. Congressmen just vote on whatever the staffers create, they don't have a clue what's in it.
Back when appropriations bills only covered one department, they were smaller and it was possible for diligent Congressmen to understand one of them. These few diligent Congressmen became legends in the armed services, Carl Vincent, Sam Nunn, and John Stennis for example. Stennis was so legendary that they named an aircraft carrier after him.
Apparently modern Congress men are more interested in making political gestures, like trying to cut off Iraq war funding again and again when they don't have the votes to do it, rather than getting the country's business done. Business has been delegated to unelected staffers, so the elected Congressmen can spend their time posing for the TV cameras.

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