July 20, 2007

More Money, More Problems

By: John Tabin

“You want my money. My money, for my students.”

So said Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) on Wednesday. At the time, he was being robbed by a mugger while on his way to hand out his own cash at the school where he teaches part time. Just kidding: Young was objecting to an amendment by Rep. Scott Garrett (R-New Jersey) that would strike federal funding for native Alaskan and Hawaiian education programs. In other words, by “my money,” he meant your money.

Young has a well-known and voracious appetite for federal dollars. He gained prominence in 2005 as one of the advocates for the infamous $223 million “Bridge to Nowhere” connecting Ketchikan, Alaska to Gravina Island (population: 50), and its twin waste-of-money, a $231 million dollar bridge to be conveniently named “Don Young’s Way.” By what is no doubt a wild coincidence, Don Young’s Way will connect Anchorage to a nearly-deserted port where Young’s son-in-law owns 60 acres that will be much more valuable once the bridge is built. Many Alaskans supported redirecting that money for Hurricane Katrina clean-up. “This money, a gift from the people of Alaska, will represent more than just material aid; it will be a symbol for our beleaguered democracy,” said one letter in the Anchorage Daily News. “They can kiss my ear! That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Young told an Alaskan reporter who asked about public support for redirecting the bridge money.

“If we continue this, we will be called biting one another, very much like the mink in my state that kill their own,” Young said during his Wednesday rant. “There is always another day when those who bite will be killed too, and I am very good at that.” Quite a threat! Young closed by reiterating that “those that bite me will be bitten back.” No argument here: Don Young definitely bites.

In other Congress-spending-your-money news, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) questioned a mysterious earmark to the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill that sets aside money for something called the “Center for Instrumented Critical Infrastructure.” Flake said that his staff could find no evidence on the web of any such organization: “I’m not sure whether the center currently exists or whether this earmark creates the center.” Flake also noted that a required disclosure document, called a certification letter, indicates that the money would actually be going to the Concurrent Technology Corporation — a non-profit “technology innovation center” that has received millions of taxpayer dollars in recent years care of the earmark’s sponsor, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pennsylvania). “Which is it,” asked Flake on the House floor, “and if it is to Concurrent Technologies [sic], why isn’t it listed [in the report that accompanied the bill]?”

“It’s my understanding,” replied Rep. Peter Visclosky, chairman of the Energy and Water Subcommittee, “that it will go to the Center for Instrumented Critical Infrastructure.”

“Does that center currently exist?” asked Flake.

“At this time I do not know,” Visclosky responded. “But if it does not exist the monies could not go to it.”

At this point, Flake’s jaw nearly hit the floor. (You can watch the video of the exchange here; Flake’s double-take comes at about the 3:15 mark.)

Murtha, meanwhile, defended the earmark by arguing that it provides funding for a project that the Department of Energy considers high-priority. This assertion, according to DoE, is false.

“Surely,” I hear you muttering, “you can’t stop at only two items about Congressional spending! We want more!” Your wish, Gentle Reader, is my command. The current House version of the Labor/Health and Human Services Appropriations Bill comes in at $10.6 billion more than the President requested, for a total bill of $152 billion to be spent over the course of 2008. Some gems tucked away among its more than 1300 earmarks:

– $200,000 for the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy. Agassi, who as of 2004 was worth around $162 million, helped establish the tuition-free charter school in 2001 to serve “at-risk” kids in Las Vegas. Apparently, it’s not enough to spend a small fraction of one’s fortune on charity — one must also coerce taxpayers into chipping in.

– $300,000 for West Los Angeles College to, in the words of the associated certification letter, “establish a first-of-its-kind entertainment industry craft and technician college job training program to respond to the film and television industry’s immediate need for new, trained employees.” Finally, we can breath easy about the entertainment industry’s needs! I know you were worried.

– $2 million dollars to build the “Rangel Center for Public Service” at the City College of New York. A “center for public service,” apparently, is a library and archives with an endowment. Can you guess which congressman requested funding for the Rangel Center? It isn’t a trick question; the answer is Charlie Rangel (D-New York). One must admit that putting the Ways and Means Committee Chairman’s name on the building is a much more practical solution than crediting the people who are actually paying for the Rangel Center; that would require covering the building in the IRS’s files.

This column has been brought to you by The Other White Meat.

John Tabin is a columnist for Brainwash.