The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Friday, November 30, 2001

UP FOR GRABS
Nation doesn't need spending spree


To get the flavor of the debate in Congress over President Bush's proposed anti-terrorism and economic stimulus bills, let's consider an excited remark attributed to U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.: "It's an open grab bag, so let's grab!"

Moran wants to "grab" several billion for transportation projects in his home state. These projects have little or nothing to do with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the war on terrorism.

It appears the congressman hasn't gotten the message about national unity and self-sacrifice. The Sept. 11 attacks changed America, but it's not clear how much they changed the environment in Washington, D.C.

For Moran and, unfortunately, many others in Congress, the national tragedy created a major political opportunity. Let's grab!

The grabbers in the Senate are trying to load down the economic stimulus and anti-terrorism packages with all sorts of goodies. Most of the additional spending is for pork-barrel projects that offer no real help for the lagging national economy.

President Bush has promised to veto a grab bag spending bill. He holds the high ground in this debate, and he should use his soaring popularity to block excessive spending by politically greedy congressional operators.

The House narrowly approved the $20 billion anti-terrorism bill requested by Bush. This money, which would come on top of $20 billion allocated earlier, should be enough to cover the initial stage of the war in Afghanistan and recovery programs for New York City.

Senate Democrats tried to pad the bill with $15 billion in additional spending. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is backing off that request but he still is seeking at least $7 billion more than the president believes is necessary.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, no one disputes that substantial new funding is needed for the military and domestic security measures.

With the nation at war and in a recession, balancing the federal budget no longer is a priority.

But "grab bag" federal spending spending that does not have the purpose of financing the war, stimulating the economy or improving domestic security is still unwise.

The federal government is expected to run a deficit of at least $50 billion at the end of the current fiscal year. Bush's budget director says deficit spending will continue for at least the next several years.

Under the circumstances, deficits are justified. All serious economists agree the ailing economy needs a boost from government.

However, if Senate Democrats have their way, deficit spending will return with a vengeance and continue well beyond the war on terrorism and the recession.

Robert Bixby, the executive director of a bipartisan group of budget hawks, told Knight-Ridder's Washington reporters, "The key question, really, is not whether we have deficits this year or next year, but whether or not we plunge back into an era of sustained deficits. It's very difficult to reimpose fiscal discipline."

That's why President Bush must fight to maintain fiscal discipline. Democrats and some opportunistic Republicans are trying to use the national crisis as cover for runaway spending on projects that could not survive public debate in ordinary times.

Sen. Fritz Hollings of South Carolina wants to pour more than $4 billion into Amtrak, a perennial money loser. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, is pushing for at least a billion to establish "magnetic levitation" rail service between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

A number of senators and congressmen are suggesting we can pave the way to national security by pumping up federal highway funding.

It's time for Congress to close the grab bag and focus on what's really important: the war and the economy.