WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Many conservatives have joined the lament over current federal spending trends. Nearly every elephantine program that Congress could conceive has met with White House approval. Economist Bruce Bartlett, in a recent column, quoted several conservative sources comparing the George W. Bush administration to Nixon's, at least as far as spending and the size of government are concerned.
It is easy to predict that this current borrow-and-spend tactic will eventually backfire, if not from rumblings within the conservative movement, then by virtue of its own unsustainable nature.
The cherry on the top of this 3-year spending binge is the approval by the House of Representatives, who voted 242 to 176 for a prodigious omnibus spending bill.
About one-third of the $820 billion bill is devoted to discretionary spending. It is doubtful that there is much restraint or discretion exercised in the "discretionary spending." Giving credit where credit is due, Republican leadership stood up to vigorous opposition from Democrats who accused them of not being generous enough. Thankfully, the Senate still has to reach its decision and is slated to return in mid-January to finish its work.
The funding of programs and agencies should have been under way in October. The delay has had one real benefit for tax-paying citizens, federal agencies have been forced operate at 2002 funding levels for an additional fiscal quarter.
In some circles it is believed that a growing national debt will force politicians to curtail government growth. So far we have seen none of that.
It is also commonly believed that economic growth will reverse the effects of running up the national credit card. Although the economy is perking up, we cannot become complacent. Several factors are in play. The falling dollar helps the domestic economy in the short run but it also makes it harder for us to make those incredible interest payments.
The interest payments on the debt are the third-largest budget item, running close on the heels of defense and entitlements. If the dollar's decline is accelerated, it could push interest rates higher and undermine the stock market. Caution is needed in case this wonderful recovery happens to be a mile wide and an inch deep.
Federal spending has jumped drastically and understandably in the defense budget considering the one-two punch of being under-funded by the previous administration and the exigencies of 9/11. Tack on $58 billion for "No Child Left Behind," plus the bailout of state governments (apparently running without any adult supervision), stir in Medicare and energy spending, then add an enormous portion of pork and "Houston, we have a problem."
Speaking of pork, there's $50 million for a tropical rainforest in Iowa ... no kidding. There's $2 million for "The First Tee Program" in St. Augustine, Fla., to provide affordable golf for everyone, and if you like some fruit with your pork, you'll enjoy the nearly $2 million going to West Virginia for the Appalachian fruit laboratory.
As a fishy side dish, nearly half a million dollars is going to Alaska for halibut data collection. There's $725,000 for the "Please Touch" museum in Philadelphia.
The bill could otherwise make for entertaining reading if it wasn't 1,100 pages of Byzantine gobbledygook.
Pork is the one thing Congress should be able to pen up. A politically practical answer exists. There is a plan, based on former House Majority Leader Dick Armey's Base Realignment and Closure model, that should provide some relief.
Legislation creating a Commission on the Accountability and Review of Federal Agencies - SB 837, by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and HR 3213, by Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., establishes a mechanism to review federal agencies and programs, with so-called entitlement programs off the table and not available for review.
The CARFA commission will make recommendations of "duplicative, wasteful, or outdated functions" to be eliminated or realigned on which the Congress must then vote affirm or reject in its entirety.
This approach allows for real reforms to emerge, and for the deficit and debt problems to be brought under control. SB 837 and HR 3213 offer Congress and the administration a viable, arm's-length alternative to federal spending gone haywire.
It is hard to stop a juggernaut as large as the current federal spending trend, but CARFA will certainly cause it to trip and allow it to slow down.
There are many great, positive things to say about this Congress and this administration. At the same time there is an undeniable negative -- federal spending. If more people are aware of CARFA as an important and politically viable first step to the spending problem, more positives will result.
(Paul M. Weyrich is chairman and chief executive officer of the Free Congress Foundation, a 26-year-old Washington-based conservative think tank.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)