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Earmarking Pork

“The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment.” – NY Times columnist David Brooks

March 16, 2009
By Rob Lafferty

David Brooks is a sharp fellow, and I generally respect his analysis of current events. But he seems to have forgotten some history, and it’s pretty clear that he isn’t talking to the same folks I talk to every day. That’s a shame, because those folks could show him exactly what class resentment looks and sounds like, given the chance.

I suspect a majority of Americans have always resented people who became wealthy without producing anything of value. I know that powerful resentments over CEO salaries are being openly expressed in public places to a degree I’ve never seen before. And I hear a rising call for revolution once again, echoing across the political spectrum just as it did in 1972.

There’s more than a few crazies out there right now, muttering in anger as they plot heinous acts of revenge against Big Business and those politicians who’ve worked hard to keep worker’s wages low while allowing management’s pay to skyrocket. The latest round of executive bonuses being paid by AIG and others may be enough to snap a lot of angry anarchists and superpatriots into full action.

But these are different times, and we are a different nation. The cultural revolution of the 1970’s was less violent than the race riots of the 1960’s, and those days pale in comparison to labor/management conflicts of the 1930’s and earlier. So while mass violence in the political arena isn’t very likely, revolutions can and do happen without open rioting.

To be fair, Brooks is often right on the mark. It’s true that American society hasn’t been torn apart by a revolt of the working poor, although their resentment has always been there. And when House Minority Leader John Boehner proposed a freeze on all federal spending as his best solution to the economic crisis, Brooks quickly joined fellow columnist Paul Krugman in calling that a “completely insane” idea. But journalists who focus on Congress and Wall Street often suffer a great disconnect between themselves and people who live in the small towns and rural areas of Main Street America.

In those places some serious resentment is being voiced over Congressional “earmarks” and “pork-barrel” spending. Those terms describe when a Senator or Representative attaches specific language to a larger spending bill that directs some of the money to a specific project, usually in their home turf.

By itself, earmarking isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we have 535 members of Congress and most of them are willing to mark some ears or barrel some pork. That’s a lot of pork barrels to fill with taxpayer dollars, and it’s easy to waste money when large amounts are floating around. It’s much easier to steer some of those dollars into your own pocket, too.

President Obama has proposed making earmarks public knowledge by posting them on each Congressperson’s website at least 20 days before the bill it rides on comes up for a vote. Citizens would then have a chance to see exactly how each representative wants to spend the People’s Money.

A lot of Democrats embrace the President’s proposal because they want credit for bringing some bacon home to their constituents, and they don’t really care how bad that might look to anyone else. Others are leery of the idea; they’ve done some shady earmarking in the past so they prefer a new set of regulations and more oversight of the legislative process. They know how to get around any restrictions that may get written into law, so they’ll be able to earmark just as much as before.

For other members of Congress, it seems the temptation to designate federal funds for specific projects in their home state is too strong to resist. The Republican party has taken the position that it’s not enough to make the budget process more transparent. They don’t want the president to call out the big spenders, they want him to personally veto any earmarks that any representative attaches to any bill.

In effect they’re repeating the mantra of every hopeless junkie – “Save me before I earmark any more pork, because I won’t stop myself from doing it.” And maybe we should.

Our representatives spend far too much time avoiding their job of serving as a Representative of the People. They seldom take time to actually read proposed laws before voting on them. Along with their staff, however, they have plenty of time to write pork barrel legislation and find an earmark hole to stick it in. So it’s best if we remove all temptation while they still have a craving for pork. We may lose a few politicians along the way – the rehab process is never 100 percent.

But enough of all that, too. Amidst all the bad economic news coming out every day are little nuggets of good news. Today’s nugget is good news for the folks who work for Boeing Aircraft; the Obama administration just approved the largest sale of war weapons to India in our history. It’s only for eight long-range reconnaissance and anti-submarine aircraft, but the price tag is an economy-boosting $2.1 billion.

According to the State Department, it considered all "political, military, economic, human rights and arms control considerations" before signing off on the deal. But it somehow looks like reverse earmarking to me.

It’s not as if India has a powerful need to bring more weapons into that already volatile region of the planet. Also, the government of India will pay for those planes with taxpayer money. But we have a powerful need for their money right now, so it’s done deal regardless of any ethical “considerations” that might interfere. Now all we need are a hundred more sales like that and we’ll be well on our way back to prosperity...

Rob Lafferty is a former editor of the Haleakala Times. He can be reached via email at rob@moonvalleypress.comRob Lafferty is a former editor of the Haleakala Times. He can be reached via email at rob@moonvalleypress.com