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The Problem with Pork

Sep 05, 2008
The truth is messy, and things are usually more complicated than they seem.

This brilliant conclusion arose through a perusal of the 2007 Senate1 and House2 Scorecards put out by the Council for Citizens Against Governmental Waste (CCAGW). Pork is CCAGW’s bête noir, particularly as it takes form in Congressional earmarks, those add-ins to major legislation that send federal dollars to legislators’ pet projects back home. The poster child for recent earmarks is Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere, a $223 million earmark obtained by Senator Ted Stevens, currently under indictment for some low-level bad-boy behavior.3

The Scorecards examine votes relating to earmarks and are graded in one of two ways: The Taxpayers Won or The Taxpayers Lost. The taxpayers lost 32 of 35 such votes in the Senate and 96 of 100 votes in the House. Those results alone should go some way toward justifying our identification of the CCAGW as a community of soreheads.

A closer look at a few specific votes provides grist for additional conclusions regarding the CCAGW, such as their elitist proclivities.

Senate vote #11 to repeal the estate tax was defeated and the taxpayers were said to have lost. Well, of course, some taxpayers did lose—the richest one percent or so—but the rest of us won a reprieve from the additional taxation we would have had to shoulder to make up the shortfall from killing a tax that helps preserve an economic balance throughout America that was dear to the hearts of the founders. Louis Brandeis echoed their opinion when he said, “We can have a democratic society or we can have great concentrated wealth in the hands of the few. We cannot have both.”

Most of the 100 cited House votes were either to remove funds from projects which had already been voted for or to cut various appropriations across the board by half to one percent. The lion’s share of such measures was overwhelmingly defeated, and one wonders just how much time the House spends attempting to undo its own accomplishments.

Given the extent to which organizations like CCAGW favor privatization of federal job functions, it is curious to see them characterize two failed initiatives to restrict privatization (House votes 28 and 77) as losses for the taxpayer.

Of the 435 members of the House, 40 voted CCAGW’s way 90 percent or more of the time in 2007; 212 voted CCAGW’s way 0 to 10 percent of the time. One wonders what would induce the four representatives who voted CCAGW’s way 100 percent of the time (Flake, R-AZ; Latta, R-OH; Hensarling, R-TX; and Sensenbrenner, R-WI) to vote for a federal expenditure of any kind—perhaps an amendment to reduce their salaries?

The Senate numbers were even more lopsided: 5 voted in the top 90 percent; 48 in the bottom 10 percent. Only one senator was rated voting CCAGW’s way 100 percent of the time, a fellow named McCain from Arizona.

Earmarks are a complicated issue. No doubt a few of them are outright “pork” others, however, fund worthy local projects in representatives’ districts which do not merit separate legislation and do not fit conveniently into other appropriations bills. No one wants to waste taxpayer dollars, probably not even our legislators. However, the waste of a three-trillion-dollar mistake in Iraq dwarfs the cumulative effect of a hundred years’ worth of earmarks. And to agonize over the latter provides little more than a smokescreen to deflect our concentration on the former.
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12007 Senate Scorecard (.pdf)
22007 House Scorecard (.pdf)
3Alaska senator, under indictment, wins primary. From the International Herald Tribune, August 27, 2008 (Accessed August 31, 2008)
tags: Politics | Congress

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