Originally created 02/25/97

Taxpayers' views take back seat at hearings



WASHINGTON - A new study from a taxpayer advocacy group says congressional committee hearings tend to be dominated by witnesses pleading for more spending.

But staff members for two committees headed by veteran South Carolina lawmakers criticized the study for implying that any spending increases are against the public interest and for failing to understand the hearing process.

The study, conducted by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, found that for every witness who supported spending reductions during congressional hearings held last year, nearly six other witnesses testified against cuts or in favor of spending increases.

Of 70 witnesses who appeared before U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond's Armed Services Committee or an Armed Services subcommittee, 50 advocated higher spending and 20 were neutral on spending, according to the study.

U.S. Rep. Floyd Spence's House National Security Committee and the five National Security subcommittees heard from 107 witnesses who supported higher spending, 46 who were neutral on spending and only 11 who advocated lower spending.

"Washington is all about a culture of spending," said David Keating, the taxpayer group's president. "If you're a member of Congress, everywhere you turn, people are asking for more money."

The study also found that most witnesses who appeared before congressional committees or subcommittees last year were either government employees or representatives of special interest groups.

"The one view that was consistently under-represented was that of the average taxpayer," said Bob Hewitt, the taxpayer group's executive director.

But Chris Cimko, a spokeswoman for Mr. Thurmond, said it is the nature of committees that deal with defense issues to call in mostly government experts because those committees' job is to find out whether current defense spending is adequate. Since capturing a majority in Congress in the 1994 elections, Mr. Thurmond and other Republicans have criticized the Clinton administration for cutting defense spending.

"I wouldn't expect (the study) to come up with any conclusion but the fact that we have spent a lot of time talking about whether we should spend more on defense," Ms. Cimko said.

"The Republican Congress believes that national defense is a priority, or they wouldn't have added money to the defense budget," said a GOP aide to the National Security Committee who did not want to be identified.