The Smokey Bear Balloon is a big target for fiscal conservatives — a 97-foot-tall head that costs taxpayers around $30,000 a year and is often full of hot air.
As the 113th Congress opened last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., launched an attack on pork-barrel politics via the Smokey balloon, saying if lawmakers can’t cut spending strings to Smokey, “how are we ever going to get at the hard stuff?”
Fair enough. Because there is overwhelming evidence that they aren’t even going to try. There is just too much bipartisan appetite for Washington’s tasty white meat: pork.
At the same time the 112th Congress was negotiating a way not to go over the fiscal cliff, senators were battening down the hatches on a bipartisan, lard-laden Hurricane Sandy disaster relief bill that directs billions far away from New Jersey and New York’s Democratic senators. Yes, some of the spending was related, directed at “storm events that occurred in 2012 along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast.”
But according to Forbes, the recipients are Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana — states represented in the Senate by seven Republicans who did not demand the billions be removed from the taxpayers’ bill. House Republicans were then vilified for approving just $9.7 billion in aid from the Senate’s $60.4 billion proposal. The House will take up the rest come Tuesday.
Some of that spending has nothing to do with disaster aid and everything to do with disastrous judgment. Consider $336 million for Amtrak, $150 million for Alaskan fisheries, $8 million for new vehicles for federal agencies, $4 million for repairs to Kennedy Space Center and $2 million for repairs to a room in one of the Smithsonian buildings. All neatly packed aboard the latest pork train everyone thought was guaranteed to run down the rails at full speed. After all, how could anyone vote against hurricane relief?
Suddenly $30K to Smokey Bear isn’t even close to the highest-flying example of your tax dollars at waste. Essential federal spending? Clearly not. But at least the balloon’s big head isn’t obscured by a disingenuous label of disaster relief.
McConnell made a sound-bite point last week that in times of fiscal austerity, Congress hasn’t even tried to trim the easy stuff. Unfortunately, his colleagues were too busy stuffing another piece of legislation with pet projects to listen.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.