Tuesday, November 23, 2004

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The 1,689 page, 14 pound Omnibus Budget Bill

The 1,689 page, 14 pound Omnibus Budget Bill

Nov. 23, 2004

By Richard Kuper

The Op Ed Page


This past weekend, Congress passed what is called the Omnibus Budget Bill. It was 1,689 pages -- 14 pounds! It's a safe bet that not one member of Congress read every page and every word. In fact, Senator Robert Byrd stated on the Senate floor: "There is not a single member in this body who can say that he or she has read this bill."

The bill is a conglomeration of multiple budget bills that failed to pass during the normal legislation period and are rolled together into one giant bill that the lame-duck congress currently controlled by the Republican Party rammed through. Members of Congress barely had the weekend to decide whether or not to vote for the entire bill.

The bill contains a wealth of "pork" -- lots of money for special projects favored by individual members of Congress for their particular state or congressional district. The bill also contains lots of last minute additions that were added in the middle of the night when no one was looking. Now that some of these have been publicized, these last minute additions are currently the most contentious portions in the bill -- drawing condemnation by both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

The highest profile of the last-minute additions was a provision giving the chairmen of the House and Senate appropriations committees and their staffs the right to review any individuals income-tax returns without any privacy safeguards. The provision, one sentence in the 3,000-page omnibus spending bill that cleared Congress on Saturday night, states, "Hereafter, notwithstanding any other provision of law governing the disclosure of income tax returns or return information, upon written request of the chairman of the House or Senate Committee on Appropriations, the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service shall allow agents designated by such chairman access to Internal Revenue Service facilities and any tax returns or return information contained therein."

Amazingly, it is being reported that the measure was discussed on the House floor by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla. No one seems to remember. The bill was passed, including this provision, and is awaiting the President's signature. The provision allowing the chairmen to review anyone's tax returns will supposedly be struck from the bill after the House acts Wednesday on a separate bill approved by the Senate Saturday in a deal struck to gain passage of the omnibus bill. In the meantime, between the time the President signs the omnibus bill and the time the President signs the "oops" bill, the chairmen and their staffs will have the power and authority to review anyone's tax returns!

This omnibus bill also bars federal, state and local agencies from forcing physicians, insurers or healthcare entities to provide abortion-related services or referrals to patients -- even if the patient requests the services or referrals. This is yet another step by the Republicans to reduce abortion rights in this country.

Some of the "pork" included in the bill:

$2 million for the government to buy back the presidential yacht USS Sequoia, sold in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter to demonstrate frugality.

$1.1 million for research into the development of baby food and other products made from salmon.

$1 million for the Missouri Pork Producers Federation to convert animal waste into energy.

$1 million for a world birding center, Texas.

$800,000 for "soybean rust research" in Ames, Iowa.

$300,000 for a parking garage in Auburn, Maine.

$225,000 for the National Wild Turkey Federation in South Carolina.

$200,000 for the American Cotton Museum in Greenville, Texas.

$150,000 to pay for beaver management and damage in Wisconsin.

$100,000 for a swimming pool in Ottawa, Kansas.

$100,000 for a weather museum in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

$75,000 for "hides and leather research" in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania.

$70,000 for a "Paper Industry International Hall of Fame" in Appleton, Wisconsin.

$25,000 for the study of mariachi music in Nevada's Clark County School District.

$1,593 for potato storage in Madison, Wisconsin.

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Welcome to The Op Ed Page

Welcome to the Op Ed Page. Here you will find ocassional opinions and editorials about politics, business, and other topics. Please check back on a regular basis.

Richard Kuper
Editor and Publisher
The Op Ed Page