When disaster strikes, Uncle Sam likes to lend a helping hand. While the money for such charitable acts is usually doled out as the need arises, some "emergency" spending always finds its way into annual federal appropriations bills.
That's partly because such aid does more than engender warm feelings for beneficent legislators–it lets them spend more money. Since 1991, "emergency" spending has been exempt from budget caps. So this year, when Congress and the president were faced with a $80 billion budget surplus and a presidential promise to save those funds for Social Security, they put their partisan differences aside and declared a $20 billion state of emergency. Among the bill's acts of compassion: $7 billion for the military, $6 billion for farmers, $2.4 billion for embassy security, and $690 million for the drug war. Says Hoover Institution Senior Fellow John Cogan: "[Lawmakers] faced an election. It was a potential personal disaster."