FOR the third year in a row, Congress failed to get its annual appropriations work done on time, resulting in the hurried passage of a last-minute $388 billion omnibus bill containing some 12,000 projects that have not been subjected to any meaningful legislative oversight.
Let's call it what it is: pork-barrel spending.
"Pork" has long been a synonym for government expenditures that are inherently wasteful. That is not the case with the entire contents of the 3,320-page bill, although many Americans surely would wonder about the necessity of paying for protection by Capitol police for U.S. senators traveling abroad. Or another $200,000 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Or $100,000 for the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center.
The Pennsylvania congressman who slipped the weather museum into the bill even brought "Punxsutawney Phil," the legendary weather-predicting groundhog, to Washington to convince the public of the value of his pet project. All the stunt did was dramatize how Congress seems intent on reliving the same flawed and profligate appropriations process year after year after year.
As we said, it's not that every project in the bill is wasteful; the hang-up is how lawmakers assemble this arbitrary menagerie of spending, which has grown five-fold over the past decade.
Congress, increasingly preoccupied with partisan politicking, was once again unwilling to put in the long hours needed to pass its 13 annual appropriations measures by Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
In the end-of-the-session crush that resulted, whole groups of bills were folded into one humongous stack of paper 14 inches high that few, if any, lawmakers ever reviewed.
The process, as noted by the nonpartisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense, "is fundamentally undemocratic. Seven of the nine bills had no Senate floor consideration. Further, because they were rammed through [a House-Senate] conference [committee], 100 senators were deprived of the opportunity to vote for or against hundreds of billions in spending. Passing legislation that no one has had the chance to read violates the principles of democratic government."
Moreover, national spending priorities are decided not on the merits of individual projects but through the clout of the most influential members of Congress. At one time, most spending was scrutinized as bills inched their way through the legislative process, but those modest safeguards apparently are gone for good.
Even a drowsy marmot like Punxsutawney Phil knows that this is no way to run a government.
The only thing worse would be, well, six more weeks of Congress.