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Jewish World Review April 25, 2002 / 14 Iyar, 5762

Martin Gross

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Consumer Reports


How to slice the pork out of congress' hide


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | About this time each year, Tom Schatz, president of the nonpartisan Citizens Against Government Waste -- an organization of 600,000 frustrated patriots seeking better government -- regales us with the latest tales of Washington foolishness. Much of it is a compendium of ludicrous government overspending, most on needless local projects invented by members of Congress intent on spending their way to re-election -- apparently the major goal of their government service.

We label these projects -- from $137,000 to study the sex life of the Japanese quail to $900,000 to restore a German U-Boat in Chicago -- as "pork," a reference to the common concept of "bringing home the bacon." It was once a comic, small-time, petty cash kind of congressional connivance. But today, the pork misadventure has grown into a big-time spoil system, reaching an estimated $21 billion a year and growing.

To spend money, Congress requires the approval of one of the 13 appropriations committees in each chamber. But these "appropriators," 93 strong in the House and Senate, often become what many believe are the least ethical members of Congress, abusing their power by setting aside huge amounts of extra money for their district or state, often ignoring the national need.

Getting a seat on an appropriations committee is a license to take money from "me and thee," and give it to the folks back home, who show their appreciation at election time. We end up inadvertently supporting candidates around the country that we don't know, or may even dislike. Talk about campaign finance reform.

Chortling congresspeople take advantage of voters' lack of sophistication. They please the homeowners with federal largesse, knowing that taxpayers don't realize that their money is also being spent in 49 other states and 434 other congressional districts on projects in which they have no interest and which add little, if anything , to the commonweal. Even those few projects that make sense are local, and not national, in value.

In addition, the money is not spread around equally. The Princes of Pork -- Sen. Richard Byrd, D-W.V., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, ranking member of that committee; and Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, represent three underpopulated states that walked away with over $1.2 billion in federal pork money. This was hardly the intention of the Founding Fathers, for whom "pork" was meant for a Sunday dinner and not for such an extravagant idiocy as $384,000 for a federally paid census of cats and dogs in Ventura County, Calif.

States such as Connecticut, which pay much more into Washington than they get back, took in only $20 in pork per person, while Alaska amassed $714 -- enough porcine fat to keep them warm all Arctic winter.

Some of the beauties from this year's budget include:

  • $2 million to refurbish the statue of "Vulcan" in Birmingham, Ala.

  • Funds for a car-racing museum in South Carolina.

  • Federal monies for a music conservatory in Westchester County, N.Y., one of the wealthiest counties in the nation.

  • $2.5 million to redevelop Grand Avenue in Kansas City.

  • $4 million for a dolphin replacement project at the Seattle Ferry.

  • $8 million for the Russian Leadership Development Fund, which includes trips to the Coors Brewery and to a flea market in Florida.

  • $25 million more to the International Fund for Ireland, a going away present for Tip O'Neil, funding such things as a golf video, pony trekking and a national water sports center.

  • $4.2 million to refurbish the ship Adventurous in Hawaii.

  • $50,000 for the Liberty Tattoo removal program in San Luis Obispo, Calif. -- plus 8,325 more pork projects.

What are we to do?

The first step is to make members of Congress realize that when they engage in porking, they are involved in unethical behavior -- that sending money home to mama is not patriotic. Federal taxpayer money that is spent on their home district or state is not being spent where it may be needed most, especially today with the national terrorist emergency.

If we can induce a sense of shame in politicians -- admittedly a difficult task -- that porking is merely cheap vote buying with Other People's Money, then perhaps Congress will see the selfishness and self-aggrandizement involved in porking.

Should that day arrive, then there are at least two things that can be done:

  • Put term limits on the years one can serve on the appropriations committees, keeping new Byrds from building more pork dynasties.

  • Pass a House and Senate resolution that any member of Congress who earmarks pork money for his own district or state, or "swaps" pork with another member, would be guilty of unethical behavior punishable by exposure and discipline up to and including expulsion from Congress.

Will it happen? Only if citizens, who in the final analysis run this democracy, decide that too much pork for is bad for the national digestion.



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02/21/02: Those darn Europeans -- again
01/31/02: Director of Homeland Insecurity
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01/17/02: Can we stop a nuclear plant attack?
01/09/02: More failed federal aid to education?
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© 2002, Creators Syndicate