Feds need to rearrange budget priorities

Somehow, the United States government is going to have to come up with $200 billion to help rebuild the post-Katrina infrastructure in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, and it may face another big ticket from Hurricane Rita.

One suggestion is a tax increase. In the same vein, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., recommended President Bush roll back his planned tax cuts. Neither is the right approach.

Here is a real opportunity for the federal government to rearrange its priorities - by performing the functions it was organized to perform. That means diverting funds from other spending and directing them at the restoration effort.

Spending by the Bush administration already has put the federal budget in a $300 billion hole, and there's no rainy day fund.

At the top of the list of cuts must be the recently approved highway bill, with its $25 billion in pork-barrel projects. Nevadans already have voluntarily donated millions of dollars to hurricane victims. Are they ready to give up millions in federal pork to help resurrect another region's economy?

Specifically, are Nevadans willing to forego $10 million earmarked for reconstruction of the Virginia & Truckee Railway, $8 million for Lake Tahoe ferries and $45 million for a Maglev train in Las Vegas in order to help rebuild a highway in Mississippi? These are the kinds of projects we're talking about sacrificing across the nation.

To his credit, Sen. John Ensign is leading the charge in Congress, calling last week for Bush to slash the federal budget by 5 percent across the board and delay a Medicare prescription drug program.

"This really is the time for the president to use the bully pulpit to ask the American people to sacrifice, and to ask the leaders of the Congress to set (budget) priorities in a different way than we are setting them now so that we don't pass this debt on to future generations," Ensign said.

He and five other senators plan to introduce a plan that would also make specific cuts in the highway bill and set aside a 1 percent contingency for emergencies.

It's a time to tighten belts, and the federal budget has plenty of room to spare.


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