Though Thanksgiving is typically synonymous with turkey, this year, members of Congress feasted on pork. Last week, Congress passed a $388 billion omnibus spending package, which included something for everybody — ranging from $443,000 earmarked for salmon-based baby food to another $50,000 for rogue hog control in rural Missouri.
University students should not feel left out by Congress’s recent round of pork-barrel spending. U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn) was able to secure an astounding $12 million in funding for his district, which includes Ann Arbor. Dingell ensured government funds for many local projects, including public transportation and University initiatives. While Dingell’s efforts certainly yielded valuable results, they are part of an irresponsible spending spree that will be financed entirely by red ink budget dollars.
The money allocated to local groups will no doubt support projects and initiatives that will, in the long run, help the community. The omnibus bill will provide the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority with $1 million for the expansion of the Blake Transit Center, no doubt money that will further ease public transportation problems in Ann Arbor. Furthermore, an additional $1.5 million will be apportioned for the further study of a commuter rail line between Ann Arbor and Detroit — exploratory funds the project desperately needs for a jump-start. Additionally, the spending bill will grant the University’s Health System $600,000 for infectious disease laboratory improvements. The money will aid the University in its effort to construct a new multimillion-dollar facility to test the ultimate impact that infectious diseases may have on humans. These investments are not mere “pork;” they are worthwhile causes that deserve government attention. Nonetheless, the money to finance these projects is simply not available, and tucking these provisions into a large omnibus bill only encourages giveaway spending.
With the government currently running the largest deficits in its history, Congress has an obligation to be cautious about how it uses discretionary funds. The long-term consequences of heedlessly ratcheting up the debt will endanger the survivability of worthwhile spending initiatives like Social Security and Medicare. Increased debt will compel the federal government to force unfunded mandates upon the states, many of which are currently embroiled in their own budget difficulties. As a result, many projects in infrastructure and education will be starved. Congress and the Republican leadership need to demonstrate the willingness and resolve to curtail and eliminate irresponsible spending.