President Bush stoked bipartisan fury Wednesday with a proposal to yank $70 million in approved disaster assistance from West Coast salmon fishermen in order to pay for spiraling costs to fund the 2010 Census.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers vowed to protect the funds, part of $170 million Congress made available in May when it passed the Farm Bill.
While Bush called the disaster funds among several "lower-priority federal programs and excess funds" and maintained that the remaining $100 million is a sufficient amount, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., called it an "outrage."
Gentlemen, gentlemen--please! Let's be reasonable here.
Rep. DeFazio, you simply have to remember that salmon can't vote or amass wealth, and are therefore naturally of no possible interest to the Bush administration.
But President Bush, you really must keep in mind that $70 million, in the context of, say, an Iraq war now projected to cost the US $2.7 trillion, is really nothing. It's chicken feed. Or, if you prefer, salmon feed.
Of course, reckoning costs in the trillions can be a little confusing; let's dial it back to more manageable numbers, like billions. Consider:
Double-billing. Bribes. Kickbacks. Military contracts are big targets for serious crimes — and there aren't nearly enough investigators to catch them all.
The Army's contracting budget has exploded since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began — from $46 billion in 2002 to $112 billion in 2007. Yet the number of people who hunt down crooked companies and corrupt officials has stayed about the same, according to Associated Press interviews and research.
Army investigation chiefs told the AP they need a dramatic increase in agents to fight contract fraud.
Compared to the $112 billion we spent on scarcely-supervised military contracting during all of 2007, my back-of-the-envelope arithmetic says that $70 million--the amount that Bush says the 2010 census needs--is the equivalent of about 6 hours' worth of government pay-outs to contractors like Haliburton and KBR in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Six hours' worth. Pfft! That's nothing.
So here's my proposal: Go ahead and take the $70 million from salmon industry support and give it to the census project. Then take the money the US will spend on 6 hours of government contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan (and those are 2007 rates, mind you; 2008 rates are undoubtedly higher, so this really is a deal) and give it to the salmon.
Everyone will be happy, and if the cost of 6 hours of military contracting ends up being more than $70 million, the salmon will give back the difference and say they're sorry.
What could be fairer than that?
(By the way, I'm starting a pool: Buy in for a dollar, and pick the date and time it's reported that the Bush administration awarded a $70 million noncompetitive contract to a crony in connection with the 2010 census. Double pay-out if it's only discovered after the 2010 census conspicuously underreports the population of several Democratic-leaning congressional districts.)