The U.S. Congress at Work: A Reminder

Under the many appropriations and regulatory bills thus far passed by the House and Senate (though not yet sent to the President's desk for his signature or veto), many social and environmental programs have been targeted for elimination or reduction. In many cases, these budget-cutting measures are the result of efforts to implement the Republican manifesto, the Contract with America. Whether you voted in support of a candidate wielding the Contract last fall, voted against it, or didn't really care, you should still be aware of what the Republican-controlled Congress has planned for our future. Here, in no particular order, are a number of programs relating to human welfare that have been addressed recently by Congress. All of the following have been approved by either the full Senate or the House of Representatives.

These are only a few of the many programs that Congress has deemed wasteful. In their stead, it is claimed, will be a reduced budget deficit and, eventually, reduced taxes. But Congress is far from even-handed in its tactics to reduce Federal spending. Despite the need to reduce the budget deficit, and regardless of the deep cuts into social programs that it has passed, Congress is planning appropriations to the Department of Defense beyond even what the Pentagon itself believes is necessary. Two examples are proposed funding for additional B-2 bombers, at a cost of roughly $1 billion each, despite the 20 such planes that are under construction or that already exist (though they have never been used), and the resurrection of the "Star Wars" strategic missile defense system with $300 million in start-up funds allocated by the Senate (the Administration estimates that the completed system will cost $48 billion). These programs are pure Congressional pandering to the defense industry -- political pork with little or no social or military value in the post-cold war period, and in any case not cost effective given the lack of current need for such military technology and the oft-stated Congressional goal of reducing the budget deficit.

Think about it this way: for less than the cost of three of the additional B-2 bombers the Senate desires, the government can continue to provide support for the nation's public school systems and continue to implement the laws that protect us against unsafe drinking water and air pollution. Which would you rather have for your children?

If you feel like taking a few minutes to call your Senators and Representatives in Washington to let them know how you feel about their priorities -- and yours -- you can reach them directly by calling (202) 224-3121 or (202) 225-3121.

Richard Wallace is a Ph.D. student in environmental policy at Yale.