Now they are after Smokey Bear, too

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — Congress is back in session and with it, the usual silliness. On opening day, Jan. 3, Congress’ preoccupation was with correcting a huge oversight – a little relief for the Hurricane Sandy victims. 

What with the fiscal cliff and all, it was difficult to concentrate on natural disasters when dealing with the unnatural disaster Congress had created for itself. 

The Senate decided to continue its silly filibuster rule. Bring back Jimmy Stewart. And Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell listed examples of government overspending. 

One of them was the Albuquerque-based Smokey Bear balloon, which flies throughout the world, including the annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. 

After Mitt Romney unsuccessfully targeted Big Bird for helping run up the national debt, one might have thought the war on cartoon characters was over.

But it is obvious a strategist somewhere has decided a war on cartoon characters is the way to make the point that Washington spends too much. 

The National Forest Service says the cost of the balloon to the government is only about $30,000 a year and that it is a teaching tool that ultimately pays for itself. 

Somehow going after lovable characters doesn’t seem a smart way to influence public opinion. 

The late Sen. William Proxmire of Wisconsin had a much better idea with his Golden Fleece Award for questionable research projects. 

I’ve always thought eliminating federal pork barrel projects was a good way to start the spending cuts in Washington. 

Arizona Sen. John McCain has long been a champion of that cause but to no avail. I understand he doesn’t ask for anything himself. 

Since Congress can’t control itself, it would be great if the president had line-item veto power as New Mexico’s governor does. But Congress never has been willing to give up that power. It would prefer to just complain. 

Maybe a good starting point would be for those members of Congress who complain the most about government spending to give up all projects to their districts or states. 

One of the most shocking practices involves members of Congress who have big military contractors in their districts or states. 

When the Pentagon says it doesn’t need any more of a certain plane, ship or tank, these members of Congress insist that more are needed and that it is unpatriotic to cut back. 

It is some of these senators and representatives who complain the loudest about government overspending. 

Then the U.S. Senate moved on to consideration of President Obama’s nominations for top positions in his administration. 

Protocol calls for allowing a president or governor to have the people he or she wants. But that isn’t the way it goes these days. 

Even when the president nominates a Republican for defense secretary, Republicans complain that he isn’t Republican enough. These same senators had glowing words of praise a few years ago when Sen. Chuck Hagel retired. 

Obama knew Hagel would be controversial so he didn’t suggest him until he was elected to a second term. That isn’t an uncommon tactic. Former Gov. Gary Johnson didn’t mention marijuana until his second term. 

Think of the stories you heard about Barack Obama when he was first elected. We were told if he were elected to a second term, he would turn the country over to Islam and become a dictator. 

Now we hear some Democrats complaining that Obama acts more like a moderate Republican. 

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is just starting the second half of her first term but she already can see a troubled road ahead. 

The heavily Democratic Senate still will be the end of the road for her trademark legislation such as driver’s licenses and 3rd grade retention. 

Added to that, she still does not have all her cabinet confirmed for appointees from the beginning of her administration. 

 Public Education Department Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera is still unconfirmed. Economic Development Department Secretary Jon Barela might still be unconfirmed but immediately after withdrawing from a congressional race, he miraculously received quick approval.