Alexander's Column

Your money or your life

Mark Alexander · Aug. 3, 2001

Congress and President Bush are dancing to that old mugger’s melody, “Your Money or Your Life?” as they grappled with budgetary and legislative negotiations before the August recess.

On the front with the most deadly potential, Senate Minority Leader “Chester” Lott signaled his intent to whittle down the already-meager increase in defense spending requested by Mr. Bush’s team. “If we don’t have $18 billion, we won’t do $18 billion,” Lott announced this week, referring to the increase, over the 2002 planned level of $310 billion, which would be reserved for improved readiness and needed spare parts, among other necessities. Candidate Bush had promised our troops “help is on the way,” and seemed about to deliver partially on that national security promise – until Congress went on a porkfest larding up the budget.

“Why is the government’s surplus not as large as originally forecast?” queries columnist Cal Thomas. “Republicans say it’s because Democrats spend too much. The Republicans are right about spending but wrong in accusing the Democrats of being the only guilty party. Republicans know how to spend as well as Democrats. Their problem is hypocrisy because the GOP is supposed to be the party of fiscal restraint and smaller government.”

But the real problem is that Congress is – and has been for generations – ignoring the Constitution’s specific enumeration of spending priorities. Article I, Section 8, seems clear enough to us: “The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States….” This power was never intended to include half the current expenditures – AKA pork.

Consistent with the Constitution’s mandate, the House Armed Services research and development subcommittee approved $8.16 billion in 2002 spending for ballistic missile defense (roughly $135 million less than the Bush administration had asked). “What we did … was the first step, the first passage of the president’s missile defense program. We embarked on a new era of rigorous testing, and I think took a giant step forward in advancing the security interests of this country,” the subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-California), remarked.

Dodging a Demo bullet to defund missile defense, the full House Armed Services Committee beat back, on a party-line 31-28 vote, a Democratic plan to cut nearly $1 billion in missile defense funding. But over in Lott’s chamber, Senate Armed Services Committee Lefty Sen. Carl Levin stands ready to oppose missile defense spending.

In other “money or life” negotiations, H.R. 2653, dubbed the “Bipartisan Patient Protection Act,” was held hostage until Mr. Bush reached a compromise with Republican Rep. Charlie Norwood on restricting lawsuits against HMOs. Despite an impassioned plea from Demo Dick Gephardt (“In the name of God … vote against this bill!”), it narrowly passed in the House, 218-213. (We are checking to see if Gephardt has EVER invoked “God” from the floor on any other occasion.) We’d hoped there would be protections for more than just “bipartisan patients” before Mr. Bush attached his signature!

Speaking of “life,” the House voted 265 to 162 Tuesday to outlaw human cloning, whether for implantation and reproduction or for medical research including the so-called “therapeutic cloning” of embryos. Bill sponsor Rep. Dave Weldon commented after its passage, “I think the House spoke very, very loudly today that this is morally and ethically inappropriate. It clearly sends a message that there is a place we don’t want to go, and that is the manufacture of scientific embryos for research.”

Fearing this vote might give credence to those who view life as “in the Image of God,” Demo-gogue Tom Daschle attempted to put distance between the creation of human clones for research and the creation of human embryos for research. “I think as we write about it and talk about it, we can’t casually intermingle these issues and make them one in the same. They’re not. I strongly believe that this country ought to advance research and science utilizing embryonic stem cells. But I draw the distinction between that and a full-fledged willingness on the part of the country and the scientific community to use cloning as a method of research and scientific development.”

Memo to Tom: There is no distinction!

And a final note on an issue that is not killing anybody – unless you are dying laughing at House Members pandering to eco-nuts. By a margin of 218-189, the House approved the 10 parts per billion water standard for arsenic Bill Clinton ignored for eight years – until ten minutes before leaving the White House. Arsenic, naturally occurring in harmless dilute concentrations around the nation, was in 1942 set at an acceptable federal standard of not more than 50 parts per billion. This week, predictably, the Senate approved the Clinton arsenic mandate – after Sen. Pete Domenici promised future legislation authorizing the central government to foot the bill. Why the furor? Because President Bush, quite wisely, delayed implementation of the lower standard for more study. This never was about health – it was a political trap set to be sprung with charges anyone questioning the lower arsenic levels is “uncaring” about public health.

It was “for the children,” don’t you know!

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