Spend, Spend, Spend

While government spending grew by a third during President Bush’s first term don’t look for this Congress to pull back on the reins anytime soon.

When Republicans took over Congress a decade ago, they vowed to shut down the departments of Education, Energy and Commerce along with 200 programs in those agencies and elsewhere. The GOP never carried through on their promises. Bureaucrats fought back so successfully that those three departments are flourishing, and doomed programs like those to develop clean coal technologies and federalize education standards were lavished with budget increases. In fact, none of those 200 programs was axed.

Stephen Slivinski, director of budget studies at the Cato Institute think tank in Washington, looked at 101 of the largest programs the GOP once put on the death list and found that Congress increased spending on them by 27 percent.

Josh Bolten, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, blames budget bloat on expenses from the war on terrorism. Yet Slivinski contends that even if spending on homeland security and defense programs were put aside, the last four years saw the largest increase in federal spending since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.

The National Taxpayers Union says that for every 23 bills introduced in the last Congress, only one proposed cutting spending on federal programs. Analyst Demian Brady said the argument on Capitol Hill last year came down to “whether to grow government at warp speed or merely the speed of light.”

The American Legion has settled a raging dispute over whether wood baseball bats are safer than metal bats. The veterans organization, which sponsors high school baseball leagues around the country, says it investigated the matter after an American Legion baseball pitcher died as a result of being hit in the head by a baseball propelled by a metal bat in 2003.

Larry Price, chairman of a Legion committee that examined the issue, said the panel spent nine months looking at all the evidence on whether wooden bats are “safer” before concluding there’s “no clear evidence” for a blanket ban on non-wood bats.

The security industry reports that the post-9/11 era has been a boom time for engineers, architects and electronics specialists who are knowledgeable about security concerns. The American Society for Industrial Security reports that the top average salaries of security specialists jumped to $346,000 in 2004. The highest salaries are offered by banks and securities concerns, fretting about the spate of hacking and loss of customers’ financial data.

The Iraq war is producing its own baby boom.

Nine months after the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division began returning from Iraq last summer, maternity hospitals reported a surge in babies. Health-care personnel in Germany, where the division is based, reported births increased from one or two a month to 40 a month currently, and the Army has been forced to use maternity wards in nearby civilian hospitals to deal with the onslaught.

Advocacy campaigns are flooding congressional e-mail in-boxes with so much material that members of Congress are telling constituents to fill out “Web forms” if they want to get messages through. Some senators’ e-mail systems now send back automatic replies informing senders that their e-mails will be ignored because they sent them through third-party sites.

Advocacy groups are crying foul, contending lawmakers can’t ignore messages from constituents. But some acknowledge they share the blame for the declining impact of e-mails because some organizations just cc’d comments to all members of Congress, instead of targeting members individually.

(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)SHNS.com)