October 13, 2005

SPEAKING OF PORKBUSTERS, it’s time for another PorkBusters Pork Response Update. So far, Congress isn’t covering itself with glory — or even with adequate constituent response. Reader Mary Ann Lomascolo emails about Senator Norm Coleman:

Following is Norm Coleman’s response to my query about cutting pork to pay for Katrina/Rita relief. In my message (put through on his website – I wish I had copied and saved it) I specifically noted the “ambivalent” response his office gave other constituents, and hoped that he would take this seriously. While I’m glad to hear he wants to address water toxicity issues, I’m not sure how that relates to cutting pork. Furthermore, I’m a religious person and an eternal optimist, and I think confidence and hope are more powerful than anything. Yet the little pep talk in this email rings a bit hollow…..

[Coleman’s response follows]

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Lomascolo :

Thank you for taking the time to contact me concerning the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

It is critical we provide short and long term relief to the people struggling with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina but we need to do so in a fiscally responsible manner. I strongly support legislation, currently pending before the Senate, which would create a Chief Financial Officer to ensure Federal funds are spent responsibly and effectively.

In addition, as the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina begins to rebuild, the Federal government should not simply spend money without a comprehensive urban re-design plan. This can be accomplished by bringing together the best practices of current environmental science to deal with water, toxicity, and flooding in a permanently sustainable manner; deal with the social problems associated with relocation and those which existed before Katrina to revitalize the sense of community and common purpose in the region; and finally, maximize the cultural and historical strengths of the devastated areas. When I was the Mayor of St. Paul, we used a simple formula: hope plus confidence equals investment. The victims of Hurricane Katrina need to feel this sense of hope and confidence in order to make the rebuilding and revitalization efforts a success.

Thank you once again for contacting me. I will keep your concerns in mind as we work together to address this tragedy.

Sincerely,
Norm Coleman
United States Senate

Meanwhile, I finally heard from my Congressman, Jimmy Duncan. He writes:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the federal costs of Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. Hearing from those I serve in Congress is always a pleasure.

Within days of Katrina making landfall and the New Orleans levee system’s breach, Congress passed more than $62 billion in emergency spending to assist with recovery efforts and rebuilding. Because our nation is nearly $8 trillion in debt and continues to run annual budget deficits, many in Congress and across the Country have raised questions concerning the manner in which the federal government will cover the costs associated with Katrina (and now Rita). Numerous proposals have come forward and I am confident the Budget and Appropriations Committee will weigh this matter carefully before proceeding.

As you are aware, eliminating all high priority projects from the highway legislation recently passed by Congress is one suggestion being discussed. Each high priority project in the Second District was requested by local officials who have structured budgets that assume federal funding is forthcoming, and each is considered important to the local economy. Consequently, I have serious concerns related to this approach and its possible impact on local governments across East Tennessee and the entire Nation.

I have argued for years that the federal government must enact more fiscally conservative policies, and I believe there are a number of areas ripe for savings. One example is the proposed lunar mission, which carries a price tag of $104 billion. Another is imporper payments to federal contractors, which the Government Accounatability Office estimates tataled a staggering $45.4 billion in fiscal year 2004.

Please be assured that I will continue to follow this matter in the coming weeks. Your thoughts and those of every constituent who has contacted me concerning this topic will be foremost in my mind during that period.

The good new: Unlike Tom Delay, he admits that there’s fat in the federal budget. The bad news: He’s sure that none of it’s in his district. Sigh.

Keep sending me your responses from members of Congress — and be sure to put “Pork Response” in the subject line so I won’t miss them. And don’t be depressed — there’s steadily more green on the PorkBusters page. It’s progress.

UPDATE: Reader John Richardson sends the response he got from Sen. Mitch McConnell:

Mitch McConnell’s response:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the United States Gulf Coast and the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. I appreciate your taking the time to share your views on this national tragedy and I welcome the opportunity to respond to your concerns.

On August 29, 2005, a massive hurricane with 155 mph winds slammed into the Gulf Coast of the southern United Sates leaving hundreds of thousands displace over a 90,000 square mile area. This devastating tragedy is one of the worst natural disasters in American history.

The Federal government has an obligation to help victims of Hurricane Katrina and make sure FEMA and other federal agencies have sufficient funding to undertake the enormous challenge facing New Orleans and the Gulf coast region. On the the evening of Thursday, September 1, the Senate reconvened to pass a 10.5 billion bill in emergency funds to help with disaster relief. The House of Representatives reconvened on September 2, and approved the same bill. This will be the first payment in a multi-year federal commitment to relief and recovery. The President will request further funding when the full scope of damages becomes clearer.

I share your strong support for streamlining and downsizing government and have worked diligently with my colleagues in Congress to pass a responsible budget that limits the growth of government spending. During this budget cycle, I have worked with colleagues in the Senate to defeat dozens of irresponsible proposals to bust the budget and increase spending. We must evaluate every program and make sure the taxpayers are getting the best value for their dollar. You can be certain that I will continue to fight government waste, and will keep your views in mind when federal spending issues are considered in the Senate.

I look forward to working with President Bush and my colleagues in the Senate to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and the floods that followed it and provide the relief to the thousands of people still in need.

Again, thank you for contacting me, I hope that you will keep me informed of other issues that are important to you.

Sincerely,

Mitch McConnell

Richardson adds: “I took it as positive in principle, yet suitably vague to be political.”

Meanwhile, reader Chris Bahr emails:

I went to look up how to contact my representative, John Culberson, and I found on his webpage that he has a written statement up that specifically addresses paying for katrina by cutting spending and postponing the prescription drug plan. Additionally he advocates reorganizing FEMA. I’ll copy the relavent part of his statement which can be found at his website:

“As your congressman and a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I will do everything I can to ensure that state and local taxpayers are reimbursed in full for the costs we have incurred in helping our neighbors while at the same time looking for spending cuts in other federal programs to pay for the hurricane recovery effort. FEMA should be completely redesigned into a federal ATM machine whose sole responsibility is to operate phone banks and computer servers and reimburse local and state governments and individuals who have legitimate and reasonable out-of-pocket expenses due to a national emergency.

“In particular, I think the Medicare prescription drug benefit must be postponed until we are able to balance the budget, and I will also be filing legislation to make all federal grant programs voluntary so that state legislatures must decide on record vote whether to accept money with all the strings attached. This will help restore the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and save vast sums of money. Over $400 billion a year is sent out by Congress to the states in various federal grant programs, and we need to put our locally elected officials squarely in charge on the record before these grant programs are accepted in a State.”

Could use some specific projects to cut, but sounds like a start to me.

This is progress — at least they’re no longer shouldering each other aside to be the first to throw money at the problem. But I think we should start pressing people for more specifics, and in particular asking them how they feel about the Republican Study Group’s proposed cuts.

Meanwhile, reader Russ Mitchell reports on his contact with Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas:

Spoke in the local office with “Sandy,” and attempted to find out whether there were specific offsets he’d be willing to cut. (Am under the weather, and thus was sufficiently tonguetied that I didn’t attempt to get her full name.) Was told that ~”Congressman Sessions is very dedicated to cutting the budget, but we’ll have to get in touch with the D.C. office for specifics.”

She promised a timely reply after taking down my home address and daytime phone number. (Of course, if this goes on your ongoing list, it might make that list rather timelier…)

Or not.

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