Thursday, December 29, 2005

Vegetarianizing Congress: The Removal of Pork

"Safire's New Political Dictionary" defines pork barrel as:
Wasteful and unnecessary projects that politicians secure for their local districts, usually to gain favor with local voters. The term dates from the days when salted pork was occasionally handed out to slaves from large barrels. An observer once wrote that the mad rush of politicians to get their district's share of treasury funds looked like slaves rushing to the pork barrel. (source)
Your ma and pa's Congress was no different; the late Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) campaigned against wasteful spending, particularly in the military, with his "Golden Fleece Awards" in the fifties and sixties before he was sued for defamation by one of the award's recipients. Apparently that's one thing that hasn't changed over the years: politicians can't stand when their motives are questioned.

I am referring, of course, to the antics of one Ted Stevens (R-AK) back in October when in response to Senator Tom Coburn's (R-OK) amendment to revoke funds for the "Bridge to Nowhere" and another Alaska bridge project and divert them to the rebuilding of I-10 in New Orleans, the senator lashed out saying:
I will put the Senate on notice—and I don’t kid people—if the Senate decides to discriminate against our state, to take money only from our state, I’ll resign from this body. (source)
To confront this particular instance would do a grave injustice to the equally heinous actions of tens and hundreds of others like Senator Stevens. The fact of the matter is that pork barrel projects are a scourge on the economy and an entirely inefficient use of taxpayer money.

I hereby propose a simple solution to this problem. Any appropriation of funds to a particular state must pass the following criteria:
  1. Is the project beneficial to a wide number of Americans as opposed to a small group of that state's residents? (If no, tell your respective state government to fund it.)
  2. Is the project making the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars? (As we are currently experiencing a deficit, the most important thing is to allocate funds more efficiently.)
  3. Will the project's benefits exceed its costs? (For example, would a $250 million bridge serving 8,000 Alaskans have benefits exceeding several billion dollars, accounting for maintenance costs, etc.)
These are all simple concepts that men and women of above average intelligence levels should be able to comprehend their purposes. It is patently preposterous that anyone, much less 82 out of 100 senators, would oppose rebuilding a bridge in a sprawling metropolis that saw extensive damage over a bridge serving several thousand remote residents of Alaska.

How many millions of cars traveled across the I-10 bridge in New Orleans before its destruction at the hands of Katrina? Now, how many thousands, nay hundreds!, of cars would traffic the "Bridge to Nowhere on even the busiest days? A small airstrip isn't exactly a daily commuting point in the way thousands of houses and tens of thousands of offices are to New Orleans residents.

The fact remains, unnecessary and unefficient projects equal tens of billions of dollars, if not more, of the entire budget every fiscal year. Each ten billion is only around half of one percent, but every year the number of projects increases and so does their stake in the budget.

For example, President Reagan vetoed a transportation bill in 1987 with 121 earmarks only to have it overridden by a spend-happy Congress. His classic humor is apparent in his comment, "I haven't seen this much lard since I handed out blue ribbons at the Iowa State Fair.” This year's bill included a massive 4,128 earmarks at a whopping value of $12.4 billion, which equates to over .5% of the entire federal budget. ONE BILL ALONE has this much pork. (source)

According to Citizens Against Government Waste, 2005 was another record year for pork barrel projects. An astounding 13,997 projects weighed in at a value of $27.3 billion, increases of 31 and 19 percent, respectively, over last year's totals. The national debt increased 8.8% and the federal deficit 9.1% between 2003 and 2004 (national debt increased 7.5% between 2004 and 2005, 2005 numbers n/a for federal deficit).

Unfortunately, an end to pork barrel projects (or at least entrance into an era of pork control) wouldn't halt the deficit and debt in their tracks. However, a shift to a more fiscally responsble government would cause a ripple effect as politicians look at spending projects with a new understanding of fiscal control and its economic impacts. Remember these key points:
  • the tax rate cut led to a tax revenue increase, thus according to the Laffer Curve, there's still wiggle room on the bottom-end.
  • fiscal responsibility will lead to budget surpluses, not tax rate hikes and increased welfare spending coupled with decreased defense spending.

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