Pork and the GOP

Everyone believes that congressional pork-barrel
spending and government waste are the same
thing. Thus, every year when it releases its
Congressional Pig Book chronicling the latest federal
pork, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW)
receives scores of angry calls, letters, and journalistic inquiries asking why we think cancer research or air-port runway lights are wasteful.

Despite most voters’–and more than a few journ alists’ misconceptions, pork and waste aren ‘t
synonymous. Waste, of course, is a relatively subjective term. Most conservatives and libertarians would agree that the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which gives money to private companies to invest in emerging economies, is wasteful because it provides
unnecessary and unfair subsidies. Good government
groups have long pointed to the hundreds of duplicative, outdated, and just plain useless education, health,
and housing programs that litter the executive agencies. When Medicare makes $13 billion in improper payments in one year, that’s waste. And of course, when the military spends $600 for a hammer or billions on a helicopter that doesn’t fly, that’s waste.

But it’s not pork. Instead, pork, as the term is used today by budget analysts, designates spending items inserted inappropriately into appropriations bills. It does not refer to a normative judgment about government’s appropriate role; it refers to lapses in the procedures erected by Congress to ensure wise use of taxpayer
money. As such, pork’s dramatic increase since
Republicans took the majority in Congress undermines good government and should trouble GOP voters.

Before Gingrich and his troops took the majority in Congress in 1995, it was an article of faith among conservatives that Democrats
were corrupt, fiscally irresponsible, and out of touch. Few issues symbolized this corruption like the proliferation of pork projects sent home by representatives and senators to “buy” another term. It was an article of faith that such practices would be eliminated immediately
once Republicans took over.

Six years later, pork items have exploded. In 1995, when the GOP took over, there were 1,439 such projects. By 1998, that number had increased to over 2,000 items, and ratcheted up to 2,838 projects in 1999 and 4,326 in 2000. Most pathetically, for FY 2001, as their presidential candidate was preaching reform and fiscal restraint, a Republican-led Congress passed 6,333 pork projects, an almost 50 percent increase from the previous year.

According to CAGW’s analysis, to be classified as pork, a spending item must meet at least two of seven possible criteria: The item was not subjected to competitive bidding;
it was not subjected to a congressional hearing; it was requested by only one chamber of
the Congress; it was not specifically authorized by the appropriate congressional committee; it was not requested by the president; it greatly exceeds the president’s
budget request or the previous year’s funding;
or it serves only a local or special interest.

The press habitually misunderstands these criteria. Articles referring to
pork as waste usually prompt pork-barrel champions like Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted
Stevens of Alaska to proclaim, as he
did recently on the Senate floor, that
he was proud to have brought home
his “fair share” of federal bacon.
Never mind that his state’s share
amounted to 30 times the national
average in dollars per capita — $766
for every Alaskan. Never mind that
most of the projects were completely
without national significance and
strictly special interest paybacks —
$176,000 for the Reindeer Herders
Association or $400,000 for a
parking lot in Talkeetna, Alaska,
population 300.

What is shameful about such projects,
and indeed all pork, is that
they circumvent open and accountable
government and turn Capitol Hill appropriators into Gilded Age party bosses. Last-minute, behind-closed-
door changes to appropriations,
sometimes adding tens and
hundreds of millions of dollars,
have become common. Before one
vote last year, the majority and
minority sides were each given
one copy of the final bill, 10 minutes
before debate began. Majority
Leader Trent Lott let the mask slip
a little when last fall’s omnibus
appropriation bill came to the
Senate floor. Lott, addressing
Senator Stevens said, “I look forward
some day to knowing all that’s in the bill.”

It is no accident the top four states
in per capita pork are represented
by Senate appropriators — Alaska,
with Stevens; Hawaii, with
Democrat Dan Inouye; Mississippi,
with Lott; and, of course, West
Virginia, with Democrat Robert
Byrd, the Senate’s alpha-porker,
who this year quipped, “You may
as well slap my wife as take away
my transportation funding.”

Since the GOP took over, spending
on pork has skyrocketed. In FY
1995, in the budget passed by the
last Democrat Congress, pork
amounted to $10.8 billion. In the
intervening years, pork has risen
to this year’s level of $18.5 billion.

While this year’s biggest increase
of 571 percent in pork was in the
Treasury/ Postal Service
Appropriations package, the biggest
abuse of our tax dollars was in the
Veterans Affairs/Housing and
Urban Development, or VA/HUD,
Appropriations bill. More than
two-thirds of the 704 pork-barrel
projects under the Economic
Development Initiatives Program
were added at the last minute in
conference. Instead of being used
to help eliminate urban blight, a
portion of this money was sent
to some of the richest towns in
America. In fact, $26 million was
slated for museums, theaters, opera
houses, and performing arts centers.

A number of other items showed up
in this bill. For example:

For the third time in four years,
Senate Majority Leader Trent
Lott forced the Pentagon to build
a $460 million ship it didn’t want
at the Ingalls Shipyard, which he
can literally see from his front
porch.

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and
Representative Tom Latham got
$4 million for continuation and
expansion of the Iowa
Communication Network fiber
optic demonstration project.

Senator Richard Shelby of
Alabama this year procured
$1.5 million to refurbish
Alabama’s Vulcan Monument, a
tribute to the god of fire and iron
constructed for the St. Louis
World’s Fair held 97 years ago.

$393,000 was added by the
House for sustainable agriculture
research in California. As of
March 8, 2000, USDA had
requested but not received a
grant proposal from any university;
no national or local need
had been established; no stated
goals had been written; and no
particular university had been
identified to carry out the
research. This is the second year
of funding for this ephemeral
research.

$8.5 million went to the Gallo
Center for Alcoholism Research.

$4 million was added by the
House for dental research.

$1.5 million was added by the
House for chronic fatigue
research.

$1 million was added in conference
for the Community Hospital Telehealth Consortium.

Slippery Slope

Some Republicans will argue such
figures are irrelevant in the context
of the gargantuan federal budget —
in 2001, the $18 billion pork tab
accounted for about 1 percent of
the $1.8 trillion budget. If pork
helps our members get elected so
they can reform Social Security and
cut taxes, where’s the harm?

Such an approach ignores human
nature. If you can’t do the little
things right, by standing for principle
against short-term gains, if you
are willing to circumvent the budget
process to spend public money and
accept the culture of horse-trading
and back room deals, how are you
going to lead the battle for elimination
of a cabinet agency or two?
How will you continue to crusade
against IRS abuse and inefficiency?
Or against any of the other myriad
abuses of this government?

Bottom line, to borrow a phrase,
pork is a gateway drug for politicians
slowly selling out to the
inside-the-beltway mentality. For
conservatives, libertarians, or even
moderates who like good government
and sound management, a
party of pork does not represent
their values.

President Bush seems to recognize
the impact of pork spending on the
integrity of the budget process. In
his economic plan during the presidential
campaign and in his budget blueprint, he called for the establishment
of a commission to eliminate
pork barrel spending. President
Bush also identified 6,183 pork
programs (a similar number to
CAGW’s tally, meaning his staff
probably used the same criteria) in
the fiscal year 2001 budget and
proposed a reduction of $4.3 billion
in such spending for his fiscal 2002
budget. Vice President Cheney has
even suggested that the president
would veto bills that exceeded his
proposed spending increase, unlike
the prior administration, which
vetoed bills that didn’t spend
enough.

The Bush administration is off
to a good start on getting its arm s
around the gigantic management
problems endemic throughout the
federal government. Its new budget
outline, “A Blueprint for a New
Beginning,” suggests many long-overdue,
common sense budget and
management reforms, such as establishing
a national emergency reserve
fund to budget for true emergencies;
curtailing congressional earmarking,
especially for special interest spending;
enforcing and extending limits
on spending and the “pay-as-you-go”
requirement; converting the
annual budget and appropriations
process to a biennial cycle; and
restoring the president’s line-item
veto authority.

In calling for “active, but limited”
government, the president says he
seeks to establish a government that
is citizen-centered, not bureaucracy-centered; results-oriented, not
process-oriented; and market-based–
actively promoting, not
stifling, innovation and competition.

His proposals have caused great
consternation in all the right places,
notably from Senator Robert Byrd,
dean of the Congressional Pork
Barrel Caucus, who has promised
a fierce fight on spending reductions
and reform.

To succeed in its efforts, the Bush
administration will also have to
quell dissent within its own party.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman
Pete Domenici, Republican of
New Mexico, recently complained
that the Bush budget grows the federal
government at “only” 4 per-cent
annually. Treasury Secretary
O’Neill responded to that just right
when he pointed out that every
year in the private sector companies
assume prices will stay the
same or even fall, and therefore
more must be done with less. Only
in government is annual spending
growth assumed.

The current environment in the
federal capital is the most potentially
reform-minded and conservative in
generations. The opportunity for
genuine elimination of pork, along
with corporate welfare, as well as
top-to-bottom federal reform of
government’s massive waste, fraud,
and abuse is here. The question is:
Will Republicans make the most
of it?

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