I'm a Pundit Too

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Is It Time To Make Congress Go Vegan?

Last summer and fall the subject of earmarks and “pork barrel” spending was in the headlines almost every day due to the Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham scandals. Those scandals and the prospect of regaining control of the House of Representatives prompted the Democratic House leaders to promise earmark reform. Earmarks are the funds that Congress attaches to legislation, generally appropriations bills, to send targeted money back to their home district. After Congress spent approximately $32 billion in earmarks last year and the Republican loss of both houses of Congress, President Bush pressed the legislative branch of the government to cut earmark spending in half. Progress has been made in some respects but there is a long way to go.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to make the practice of earmark spending more transparent and the leadership has made the paperwork accessible to the public, but only in the Appropriations Committee’s offices. The goal is to make it accessible online, but the Democratic leadership set no timetable to accomplish the goal. In other words, they can claim that they laid the groundwork, but make no real moves to actually post the reports online. The Democrats have done more than the Republicans did to make earmark spending more easily accessible to the public, but they have left an awful lot to be desired. They could have easily set the timetable to post the reports online and no politician in Washington would have wanted to be seen as opposing the bill. Unfortunately, the political minds went to work and realized that rhetoric speaks louder than action in Washington.

The new reporting system has allowed watchdog groups to see that although the Democratic leadership has started to release the reports on earmark spending, it has not really slowed them down. Speaker Pelosi has sent nearly $100 million back to her San Francisco district. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has sent close to $86 million back to his district here in Maryland. The House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey has directed $96 million to his Wisconsin constituents. The leading Democrat overseeing defense spending is Jack Murtha, who sent $186 million back to his home district in Pennsylvania.

The Speaker has received more than 1 percent of all of the earmarks in the House. She has said that she is against earmark spending and would do away with it all together if she could. I guess she has decided that since she cannot end the practice that she might as well exploit it for all that it is worth; hardly a noble effort on Ms. Pelosi’s part.

Before my liberal friends start screaming about the Republicans, I want to point out that if the Republican had lived up to their fiscally conservative talking points, we wouldn’t be having this discussion now. The leading Republican on the Appropriations Committee, Jerry Lewis, sent $124 million back to California. Bill Young is the leading Republican on the Defense Appropriations panel; he and Murtha follow the unwritten rule that the majority gets 60% of the pork, while the minority is left with 40%. Young received $142 million to pass along to his Florida district.

While these numbers seem to be staggering, the Senate has made no moves to make the earmark spending transparent or to rein in their pork fetish. As a comparison Senator Dianne Feinstein has sent close to $400 million back to the state of California. Senator Cochran, a Mississippi Republican, added $112 million to the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill. That is for one appropriations bill. The Agriculture Appropriations Bill had $26 million added by the Mississippi Republican. A total of $393 million was added to the Homeland Security bill for earmarks. $587 million was added to the Senate’s Commerce Appropriations Bill.

With new rules in the House regarding earmarks, it has made it harder for those not sitting on one of the powerful appropriation panels to attach their pet spending projects. Unfortunately, even with the new rules we have seen that power and money corrupts the politicians no matter what they espouse on the campaign trail. The numbers I have listed came from 2 sources. You can go to Taxpayers for Common Sense for lists of appropriations bills for both houses of Congress and who requested which earmark and how much each state received. I also recommend reading this article from the San Francisco Chronicle. Citizens Against Government Waste also provides an excellent review of Congress’ spending habits. I realize that with an annual Federal budget of over $3 trillion these earmarks are a drop in the bucket, but remember that the government does not produce any product to make money. Each and every dime of the budget, and every one of the earmarks, comes from your tax dollars. You wouldn’t spend your own money in such a manner, so why do we allow the elected prima donnas in Washington get away with what amounts to legal embezzlement?

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