Wednesday, March 21, 2007

No Emergency Left Behind

The American Conservative Union, the National Taxpayers Union, the Club for Growth and Citizens against Government Waste all rate members of Congress according to each organization's center-right priorities. Citizens United, while a grassroots group, engages in a different type of advocacy: we make movies, file lawsuits, and write dossiers, to name just a few things.

Nonetheless, I'm sure we would support the two "vote alerts" NTU issued today.

The first concerns a sin-tax amendment offered by Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR). "It is rare that I even consider a proposal that raises taxes," Smith assures us (my emphasis). "However," he about-faces, "I have and will vote to support an increase . . . if I believe the cause is just."

To some, punishing smokers may be "just," but to those who believe that the power to tax is the power to destroy—regardless of the victim—it's merely convenient.

The second NTU alert concerns the House supplemental spending bill. Supplementals are excluded from the ordinary budget process, since they're supposed to be for unforeseen emergencies and thus rare. However (to use Senator Smith's telling transition), in recent years, Congress has seized this opportunity of crisis and shamelessly abused it.

Why? Because, under the guise of supporting the troops, members can. Indeed, even though President Bush asked for $105 billion, the House wants to give him an extra $19 billion—for such do-or-die pocket change as $74 million for peanut storage, $100 million for citrus growers, and $16 million to convert the old Food and Drug Administration building in southwest DC into more office space for the Capitol.

Outside the Beltway, this is known as blackmail. Inside the Beltway, it's called the supplemental appropriations process.

Update: Dana Milbank brings his acid tongue to bear on the "emergency" scam ("Senate's Bold Proposal for Iraq: Sugar Beets and Rural Schools—in the U.S."), and Mike Allen proposes a subtitle for the bill: "And Don't Forget Farmers, Shrimpers, NASA and Other Regulars at Uncle Sam’s Buffet."