Quoink! Bipartisan pork overruns Capitol
I have the most reliable friend you can have in American politics, and that is ready money.
- Phil Gramm (former Republican senator from Texas)
I object to you using words like squander and pork. What is pork in one part of the country is an essential project in another part.
- John Breaux (former Democratic senator from Louisiana)
Pork continues to be the favorite meal for congressmen of both parties. With the Democratic takeover of the House and Senate after the 2006 elections, differences between the former Republican and new Democratic approaches to pork have become clear. In essence, the two approaches yield about the same results.
The Democrats just claim that their pork is not really pork at all. Republicans used to revel as they wallowed in their ?earmarks.? Actually, the Republicans still do. The Democrats, perhaps shamed by their appetites or aware that the media are following the wallowing, now protest that their pork should be called Congressionally directed spending or another more obscure term.
Does pork quack?
Does a new term change the food at the feast? We need another animal. How about the duck? An old axiom on Capitol Hill is that if it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, it?s a duck. So whatever you call it, it?s still a duck. Democrats have a lot of ducks quacking around. So do the minority Republicans. Let?s look:
When they took control of the House and Senate in January, the Democrats promised to cut earmarks by half. They promised to make the process transparent. They promised to disclose pet spending projects fully and immediately. How did they do? The White House Office of Management and Budget has totaled up 12,000 earmarks (or whatever you want to call the pet spending projects) adding up to just under $25 billion. And Congress is barely finished with the appetizers.
Left-leaning watchdog groups are enraged that Democrats have waived their own new rules in order to push through pork provisions. These groups claim that the Democrats have made it harder to track pork. Special pork projects costing millions of dollars still get attached to bills at the last moment, without debate or public disclosure.
The simple truth is that Democrats as well as Republicans are addicted to pork. Thousands of pork projects have been disguised and stuck into bills that have nothing to do with the area the pork covers. Several projects seem ludicrous, and at least two were so egregious that they were removed from final legislation. Both were to fund new museums. We Americans are fortunate to have a lot of museums in a lot of places, usually funded by a pork-hungry legislator anxious to please his or her constituents. One of the new pork-filled provisions was for a Christmas tree museum for North Carolina (which was really a barely disguised way to provide jobs for construction workers) and the other was for a museum to celebrate and memorialize the 1969 Woodstock music festival held in Upstate New York. Take just that New York porker:
Quickly dubbed the hippie museum, this $1 million pork project was sponsored by New York?s two senators, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, both Democrats and both loud critics of pork. The Woodstock earmark quickly died when it came up in presidential debates and watchdog groups tied it to about $300,000 in campaign contributions to the two senators.
Other high profile senators came in for criticism. Massachusetts Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, both Democrats, caught heat for an $8 million earmark in a transportation bill designed to help prevent delays at airport hubs. The critics said the $8 million was not the issue ? they called it peanuts - but they were angry that the money was not earmarked for Boston?s Logan airport. Instead the money was earmarked for small airports on Nantucket Island and in Barnstable on tony playground Cape Cod. Apparently, well-to-do summer people need relief from delays, too.
Alaska?s Senator Ted Stevens, a Republican, took advantage of the same bill when he added a similar earmark for $3.5 million for a tiny airport in the remote Aleutian islands. He seemed unbowed by the wide condemnation last year for his earmark to build the infamous ?Bridge to Nowhere? in Alaska. The unrepentant Stevens proudly proclaims his pork-producing prowess to all Alaskans through newsletters and radio and TV messages.
Take any major bill and you will find pork. The farm appropriations bill is so chock full that it is hard to believe that just a few months ago almost everyone was calling for trimming down the bill?s earmarks. The $285 billion bill is being held up as Democrats argue with Republicans over including even more pork in the bill.
Do not be misled by all the outraged Republicans who blame only Democrats. For all their indignation over all these Democratic earmarks, one might assume that the GOP has few earmarks to hide. Not so. Stevens is not the only Republican who is adept at porking up bills. Take House Republican Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) and his conflicting positions on the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations act. Blunt gladly took credit with his Missouri constituents for his own earmarks in the bill: $400,000 for the purchase of equipment by a Joplin, Mo., health system; $100,000 for the Joplin School District and another $100,000 for a college preparatory pilot program at Missouri State University, among others. Then, even as Blunt lobbied President Bush to sign the bill, he issued a blistering press release attacking the Democratic pork in the bill.
Blunt also expressed horror over a Democratic "spending spree" hidden in the now-vetoed Labor, Health and Education appropriations act, which House Republican Conference Chairman Adam H. Putnam (Fla.) dismissed as a "billion-dollar earmark bonanza." Putnam's central Florida district was due for $1.25 million in earmarked funds for advanced manufacturing training programs at Polk Community College in Winter Haven and funding for Florida Southern College in Lakeland to "digitize holdings and create an online exhibit."
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Democratic poll numbers
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Blunt has nearly $2 million in pet projects earmarked for Missouri in the Transportation and Housing bill, including $1 million for terminal construction at a Missouri airport and $350,000 for streetscape improvements in that favored town of Joplin (which is, of course, in Blunt?s district).
Oink or quack?
When President Bush threatened to veto the Transportation bill, Putnam knew that his pork could be slaughtered. He had larded up the bill with $1.5 million in earmarks for his district, including lane-widening funds for a U.S. highway, funds for community centers and money for a library that would store Frank Lloyd Wright documents at Florida Southern College.
Remember, this article covers the pork of only a few leading members of the House and Senate. Almost every member, Democrat or Republican, has some pork in at least one bill. Most have five, ten, maybe even 50 provisions stuffed into various bills. That is why members of Congress refer to this time of year by recalling two holidays: They say that they are "stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey" and "trimming the Christmas tree." It will get worse.
Recently, departments and agencies of the federal government have joined the pork parade. With increasing frequency, when the bureaucrats are unable to persuade Congress to include funding for a pet project, they work with lobbyists to find a senator or house member who will add the funds to a bill in exchange for, say, putting a plant in his or her district. The bureaucrats get funding for their project. The lobbyists are happy. The congressmen or senators are pleased to provide more jobs or other benefits to their constituents. This is the way it works.
So as Congress gets down to the main course in the coming weeks, remember that other animal that is important to the appropriations process. Pork by any other name is the bipartisan meal of choice on Capitol Hill.
"Quack, oink," goes the Congress. "Quoink!"
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