WASHINGTON – A Maryland congressman joined other members of Congress Thursday in vowing to oppose adding unnecessary and parochial spending items to a bill to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, participated in the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste’s “Hurricane Katrina No Pork Pledge” before going in to vote on a bill to add $51.8 billion in funding to $10.5 billion already approved for relief efforts on the Gulf Coast.
“It’s a lot of money,” Bartlett said. “We want to help but we don’t need to pile on and spend a whole lot more money.”
In the past, emergency relief bills have been called Christmas tree bills because they become adorned with amendments that provide money for unrelated interests. For instance, when the $80 billion tsunami relief bill passed last April, $25 million went toward the Fort Peck Fish Hatchery in Montana, according to information provided by CCAGW, a government fraud and mismanagement watchdog group.
Bartlett joined 12 other Hill politicians at the news conference, including Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Reps. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., and Tom Cole, R-Okla. By Thursday evening, four politicians signed the pledge – McCain, Westmoreland, Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, and Rep. Chris Chocola, R-Ind. – although Bartlett and others said they intended to sign.
Hurricane Katrina, which last week ravaged the Gulf Coast, has been called the most expensive disaster in the country’s history, with damages running in the billions.
President Bush approved $10.5 billion in aid last week. The bill expected to pass the House Thursday provides another $51.8 billion in funding, with $50 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, $1.4 billion to the Department of Defense and $400 million to the Army Corps of Engineers. Part of the money allocated to FEMA, $15 million, will go toward an inspector general, who will ensure accountability and try to prevent fraud and waste.
Bartlett said that if $200 billion was given to aid 2 million people, an average of $100,000 would be spent per person.
“If we’re spending that much money, don’t you think we need some oversight?” said Bartlett.
The money appropriated for the relief effort will add to the mounting national deficit, he said. Future generations are going to have to foot the bill for this year’s estimated $600 billion deficit, Bartlett said, urging caution in both future and current spending.
“We have not borrowed this from the Chinese or the Japanese or the oil sheiks. We borrowed this from our kids and grandkids,” said Bartlett. “Every time I vote for a bill, I ask myself ‘Is this worth passing this debt on to my kids and grandkids?'”