most obscure programs and seemingly indefensible pork-barrel projects
have well-organized, vocal defenders, who pepper Capitol Hill
with letters, phone calls, lobbying visits, paid advertising and
more. The taxpayer, on the other hand, is busy earning a living,
and has little time to stand up in the name of fiscal restraint
and lobby Congress simply for the right to be able to keep more
of what he or she earns. With the debate often distorted by this
imbalance, even fiscal conservatives - regardless of party - face
serious pressure to bend their principles and support programs
which, after all, do some good. That's how we end up with, for
example, museum funding in a bill ostensibly dedicated to highway
there are a handful of non-profit groups that run against the
grain of special interests by dedicating themselves to serve as
watchdogs of government spending. They provide support for those
of us who came to Washington to try to keep a lid on government
spending, and shine a bright spotlight of accountability on free-spenders.
One of the
most prominent of these groups is Citizens Against Government
Waste (CAGW), a non-partisan organization with more than one million
members and supporters nationwide. In addition to its famous "Congressional
Pig Book" of pork-barrel projects, CAGW annually rates members
of Congress on their spending records on a scale of 1 to 100.
With a score of 94 last year, I'm proud to have received their
top rating in the Senate, and the title of "taxpayer hero."
votes illustrate the basis for CAGW's ratings. I was one of a
handful of Senators to vote against the $286 billion highway bill
in July. Despite many worthwhile elements, on the whole the bill
was fiscally irresponsible, packed with thousands of pork-barrel
"earmarks" by individual senators. At the same time,
it was unfair to Arizona, which will receive just over 91 cents
back for every dollar we send to Washington in gas taxes.
I also voted
against the massive energy bill, because it was laden with provisions
that will distort competitive markets for energy through various
subsidies, tax breaks, loan guarantees, special projects, mandates
and outlandish amounts of federal spending. Groups like CAGW have
estimated that this bill alone will cost taxpayers tens of billions
of dollars. Both bills passed overwhelmingly, however, too full
of goodies for most of my colleagues to resist.
looking for ways to offset some of the spending required to recover
from hurricanes Rita and Katrina. There are those who believe
that focusing on fiscal responsibility in the aftermath of a natural
disaster indicates a lack of compassion, but I believe the opposite
is true. A personal tragedy, like a flood or fire, causes families
to look for ways to save money before going heavily into debt
to rebuild - for example, by cutting back on lower priority spending.
So too should the federal government. A good place to start would
be to defer some lower priority highway bill projects and apply
the money to rebuilding the Gulf Coast. You don't have to be a
Taxpayer's Hero to figure that out.