Montana Senators Named Porkers of the Month for Drought-Relief Votes

Published December 1, 2004

The taxpayer group Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) named U.S. Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Conrad Burns (R-MT) its October Porkers of the Month for tripping up the fiscal 2005 homeland security bill by adding $3 billion for spending unrelated to terrorism or national defense.

The farm-state senators added a $3 billion drought-relief package to the Senate version of the homeland security appropriations bill (S. 2437), accounting for nearly 10 percent of the bill’s total cost. Because there previously were few differences between the two chambers’ versions, the last-minute insertion of drought relief prolonged congressional negotiations and delayed essential funding for homeland security.

Political Considerations Reigned

The drought-relief package was aimed at Midwestern and Great Plains states with hotly contested congressional races.

Despite the fiscal 2004 record deficit of $422 billion, Baucus and Burns offered no way of paying for the drought relief, thereby setting the stage for more borrowing by the federal government. Pointing to the $10 billion for hurricane relief in the homeland security bill, Baucus and Burns argued all natural “disasters” deserve equal treatment.

It is disingenuous to compare cyclical droughts to a rare succession of four destructive hurricanes, said CAGW President Tom Schatz. Whereas hurricanes wreak havoc on the general population, drought aid is aimed at recovering losses for specific industries such as farmers and ranchers.

Farming Highly Subsidized

Farming is already one of the most subsidized professions in America, according to Schatz. The $180 billion farm bill passed in 2002 was the most generous in history and included money for drought-relief programs. Most farm aid goes to large farms and agribusinesses. The top 10 percent of recipients received 65 percent of all farm subsidies in 2002, Schatz said. They have the financial ability to prepare for and adjust to revenue shortfalls just like any other business, without begging for government handouts every time the weather changes, he said.

Even more outrageous, said Schatz, is that the drought “emergency” relief covers losses incurred in 2003, casting doubt on statements that the problem is as urgent as hurricane recovery. In addition, Schatz argued, drought relief has nothing to do with homeland security, whereas hurricane damage does indeed pose some security risks, and should not get wrapped up in the essential task of defending the homeland from terrorists.

For elevating home-state politics above homeland security and ignoring the deficit, Citizens Against Government Waste designated Baucus and Burns as Porkers of the Month for October 2004.

Tom Finnigan ([email protected]) works in media relations for Citizens Against Government Waste.