February 12, 2006
Your Tax Dollars on Drugs
If you want to understand how difficult it is to cut the federal
deficit -- it will surpass $400 billion in the 2007 budget -- take
a look at the Byrne grants. Named after New York City police officer
Edward Byrne, who was killed by drug dealers, the grants have provided
annually about $500 million to local law-enforcement efforts since
the program was signed into law by the first President Bush. Critics
on the left and the right consider the program to be ill-conceived
and ineffective, and they've urged Washington to eliminate the grants.
But Congress keeps pouring millions into the program.
a policy analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation, considers
the Byrne grants to be mostly "pork projects." He sees
"a big accountability problem."
is not alone. The White House Office of Management and Budget
studied the Byrne grants and gave the program a 13 percent rating
for results and accountability. That's an F-.
the National Taxpayers Union and Citizens Against Government Waste
signed a letter urging congressional appropriators to eliminate
the Byrne grants.
luck. President George W. Bush, to his credit, has departed from
his big-spending ways in seeking to reduce -- and now to eliminate
-- Byrne grants, as part of the administration's ongoing post-9/11
effort to streamline U.S. Department of Justice funding in order
to maximize the money spent on homeland security. According to
the OMB, the Bush administration and Congress have reduced Byrne-grant
funding by two-thirds since 2001.
of the OMB explained that "federal law-enforcement funds
need to be spent where they are most effective, and Byrne grants
have failed to demonstrate significant effectiveness."
of Citizens Against Government Waste noted how the administration
has tried to figure out which programs don't work and de-fund
them -- "and yet Congress earmarks these funds every year,
year after year."
(members of Congress) can't cut programs that are ineffective
and wasteful, then it just shows they are incapable of spending
restraint." Too true.
problem. Columnists and fiscal watchdogs all agree that federal
spending is out of control. Democrats are having a grand time
slamming Bush for his big spending, but as soon as Bush tries
to cut an actual program, it becomes a vital endeavor, the loss
of which will be harmful to hardworking taxpayers.
lawmakers rush to defend the program. Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa,
Mark Dayton, D-Minn., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., all have boasted
that they want to keep bankrolling Byrne grants. If you come from
farm country, you talk like Leahy -- and hail the grants as important
for "a rural state." Or you say that the funding is
essential to fight methamphetamine abuse -- as Harkin and Dayton
argued -- even though local officials are charged with enforcing
never guess that Byrne grants also funded bad law enforcement
-- most notably the Tulia scandal, which began when Bush was the
governor of Texas. A white investigator of a Byrne-funded task
force testified against dozens of black residents in Tulia, Texas,
for dealing cocaine. They were convicted, even though no drugs
were presented as evidence at trial. Later, Gov. Rick Perry pardoned
most of the Tulia convicts, and onetime defendants reached a $5
million settlement with local officials.
of the Drug Policy Alliance, which opposes the war on drugs, believes
that abuses such as the Tulia travesty occur when "the federal
government is handing money out like candy" and there is
no real accountability.
argues that "the war on drugs is an area that you could cut
without political consequences." Alas, there also are no
real consequences, because Congress keeps sneaking the money back
into the budget. I would agree, except that the press releases
sent out by Byrne-loving senators suggest that there is little
upside in cutting drug-war spending.
As the National
Taxpayers Union's Paul Gessing noted, "The people who have
the most at stake lobby very hard, whereas it's hard for the average
citizen to keep track of this stuff."
Bush for not vetoing his first farm bill, which enabled Congress'
big spending. Now that he is trying to do the right thing, he
stands alone. If the president can't push Congress to kill a program
that is 13 percent effective, then he can't cut anything, because
there is no will to spend responsibly in Washington.
2006 Creators Syndicate