(CNSNews.com) - A taxpayer watchdog group is urging Congress -- now meeting in emergency session -- to avoid pork-barrel projects in the forthcoming hurricane relief legislation.
"In the past, Congress has shortchanged our troops, disaster victims, and taxpayers by including self-serving pork projects in emergency spending bills," said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.
"Maybe this time, the widespread devastation and loss of life will shame them into forgoing egregious spending that will hinder recovery efforts and add to the deficit."
CAGW noted that Hurricane Katrina may end up being the most expensive disaster in the country's history. According to some predictions, federal aid could top $30 billion, which will add to the $331 billion deficit predicted for fiscal 2005, CAGW said.
Emergency supplemental bills have become a magnet for pork because they do not count against House and Senate budget caps -- and because the president always signs such bills.
CAGW offered the following examples:
-- In April 2005, Congress passed an $80 billion Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for defense, the war on terror, and tsunami relief (H.R. 1268), which included $25 million for the Fort Peck Fish Hatchery in Montana and $500,000 for the oral history of the Negotiated Settlement Project at University of Nevada Reno and the Fire Sciences Academy in Elko, Nevada.
-- In October 2003, Congress included $65 million worth of extraneous projects in an Emergency Supplemental measure intended to cover natural disasters, homeland security, and costs associated with the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) inserted $1.4 million for three projects in Pennsylvania, including $1 million to establish centers of excellence for the treatment of autism and $200,000 for the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine for a minority outreach program.
-- In April 2003, Congress passed a $78.5-billion War Supplemental Appropriations bill, in which lawmakers tacked on funds for 29 unrelated projects, which cost more than $348 million. Those projects included $110 million for the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa; $22.7 million for a Capitol power plant; and $200,000 for Light of Life Ministries in Allegheny County, Pa.
"Every disaster warrants an appropriate response," Schatz concluded. "But Congress will confirm taxpayers' worst assumptions if it hijacks this tragedy for parochial interests.
CAGW said the best way for Congress to offset the cost of hurricane recovery is to return the $24-billion worth of earmarks in the recently enacted highway bill.
The House on Friday was expected to follow the Senate in passing a $10.5 billion emergency supplemental spending bill for hurricane disaster relief. A few Senate leaders, meeting in emergency session, approved the bill Thursday night by voice vote.
Citizens Against Government Waste describes its mission as eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government.
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