The combination of electoral politics and budget surpluses sorely tempts members of Congress. Even legislators who regularly castigate "big spending" colleagues are likely to indulge a bit.
Many current bills are heavy with "pork barrel" add-ons - spending that serves only a few lawmakers and their constituents and escapes normal hearings. The thickness of the pork in the current fiscal year - $17.7 billion - is a record, according to a watchdog group, Citizens Against Government Waste. That's bad enough, but Congress recently added a big dollop of lard to an emergency-spending bill originally intended to zero in on such priorities as antinarcotics funding for Colombia and Kosovo peacekeeping.
By the time the bill cleared the House floor, the administration's $5.2 billion request had bloated to $12.6 billion. Extra, unasked-for military spending had been tacked on, as well as various species of pork.
Such spending should go through normal channels instead of being an emergency appropriation. The leadership in the Senate was right to bridle at the bill. Now they should get on with trimming it back. That should not include the $1.7 billion earmarked to boost Colombia's ability to fight narco-traffickers, an emergency, with clear consequences for the US.
The pork-barrel habit all too easily blurs national interest as it consumes public dollars. That danger is heightened in this era of surpluses. Congress be warned. The watchdogs are watching, and so is the public.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society