Congressional Action: Federal Spending Priorities

On October 20, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) addressed the issue of excessive federal spending:

Mr. President, I have offered a second-degree amendment that deals with a subject that has been on everyone’s mind. It has been in every newspaper in the country. It is about almost $500 million for bridges in the State of Alaska… that are very low on the totem pole in terms of the needs of the country….we find ourselves in a significant difficulty as a nation. We had the worst natural disaster to hit our country we have ever experienced. We are in a war. We added $600 billion to our national debt this last year. That is not our national debt. That is our children’s and our grandchildren’s national debt. That is over $2,000 per man, woman, and child. In this country this year we added to what they are going to have to pay back, compounded at 6 percent over the next 30 years, $30,000 to $40,000.

I think it is important for us to look back at history a little bit to help us get redirected in terms of our priorities. There was a President who faced tremendous difficulties in our Nation. His name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He made a lot of great decisions for our country — enabled us to win World War II through his leadership. But less well known is FDR’s decision to slash nondefense spending by over 40 percent between 1942 and 1944. Among the programs that were eliminated entirely were FDR’s own prized creations. By 1944, such pillars of the New Deal as the Civilian Conservation Corps, the National Youth Administration, and the Work Projects Administration had been abolished. In 1939, those three programs had represented one-eighth of the Federal budget. Roosevelt and the Congress of his day knew what to do in an emergency. Indeed, he chose to begin the reordering of budget priorities long before Pearl Harbor.

In October 1939, one month after Hitler invaded Poland, Roosevelt wrote Harold Smith, his budget director, ordering him to hold budgets for all Government programs at the present level and below if at all possible. The next month he told him the administration would not undertake any new projects, even laudable ones. He told reporters that the next year his policy would be to cut nonmilitary programs to the bone. He kept his word. Between 1939 and 1942 spending for nondefense programs was cut by 22 percent. Everyone realized that no matter how popular or deeply entrenched the program, the Nation’s priorities had to change.

I believe we find ourselves as a nation at that point in time again. With the catastrophe we have seen to our gulf coast, with the war in Iraq, with the energy crisis, and with the budget deficit, it is time for us to change our priorities…

…I think it is important also to know what the people of Alaska think. I ask unanimous consent to submit for the RECORD quotes from letters to the editor and editorial opinions from the major newspaper in Alaska on the status of these two bridges…

…The first is from Dave Person, Ketchikan, the very place where 50 people live and a $230 million-plus bridge is going to go to service them. So you can get perspective on this, $230 million for 50 people, where there is a ferry service already running every 15 to 20 minutes that takes 7 minutes to cross, is enough money to buy each one of them a Learjet. Think about that for a minute — a bridge longer than the Golden Gate for 50 people to a small area in Alaska. That is enough money to buy every one of the inhabitants a speedboat to cross any time they wanted. They could cross and leave the speedboat for somebody else to pick up and buy a new one the very next day and still not spend this much money.

So the fact is, it is the priorities we have in our country that are askew today. The priority of spending almost one-half billion dollars on bridges to a very small section of the population needs to be addressed.

…let me quote Dave Person from Ketchikan: Thinking about the immense disaster in the Gulf States, it occurred to me the most effective thing we can do as residents of our island would be to return the money earmarked for our Gravina Bridge.

This is the people of Alaska, with compassion. They know what is right. They know what we should be doing.

Here is another citizen from Alaska: I am embarrassed to see the town of Ketchikan become synonymous with a $300 million bridge. If there were an election right now on using the money for the bridge or building up the New Orleans levees or repairing a bridge in New Orleans, almost everyone in town would say no to the bridge. Anchorage Daily News.

And: The decent — that is, the American thing — for Alaskans and our congressional delegation to do would be to send these one-half billion dollars south to the real needs of millions, rather than spending them here in Alaska on legacy projects that benefit a few.

Anchorage Daily News, September 13, 2005:

This money, a gift from the people of Alaska, will represent more than just material aid; it will be a symbol for our beleaguered democracy…..

I would assume that most Ketchikan residents would agree that thousands of suffering fellow citizens and billions of dollars of destroyed economic and social infrastructure are of higher priority than our ability to drive to the airport…

…It is my understanding this amendment is going to be vigorously opposed by the home State Senators. This has nothing to do with my respect for them but has everything to do with my respect for our country and our desire to change the way we put our priorities on spending. If you think about the unfunded liabilities that are coming, $37 trillion on Medicaid and Medicare, another $8 or $9 trillion on Social Security, a debt that is soon to reach, by 2009, 2010, $12 trillion, how much more can we give to our kids, our grandchildren?…

Note: “Congressional Action” is a blog feature highlighting an official activity undertaken by or in Congress, very often chosen at random, to provide an educational snapshot of our Congress at work. Opinions and facts represented in this feature do not necessarily represent the views of Amy Ridenour or The National Center for Public Policy Research, nor is this feature intended to express an opinion on any measure under consideration by the Congress.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.