The hyprocrisy of Congressional pork

It’s early on a Monday in north Alabama’s “space city,” and Sen. Richard Shelby is bashing Washington at a packed town hall meeting in the cavernous U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

“We’re spending a lot of money that we don’t have,” the veteran Republican tells hundreds of business leaders, many nodding in agreement over bacon and eggs.

Lost in the moment is this irony: Shelby’s anti-spending message is being delivered in a government-built museum to which he frequently steers public money. The admiring crowd is made up of people whose livelihood depends on federal aerospace programs that drive the local economy. And the main point of Shelby’s speech is to assure them he’s fighting to stop NASA budget cuts and keep the spigot in Washington flowing.

The scene helps explain why Washington can’t control its spending. Lawmakers and their voters usually love the federal money that flows into their communities, even though they’re wary of spending in the abstract and balk at tax increases.

“I guess it’s human nature,” said Bubba Roby, a Huntsville banker who specializes in getting loans to local businesses, most of them doing work with the government. “Everybody wants to see their tax dollars come back home but they don’t want to see it going other places.”

Few politicians have played to this attitude better than Shelby and his neighboring-state colleague, Thad Cochran of Mississippi. As the top two Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee, the two Southerners have built their careers sending federal money back home. They stand out as big-spending dinosaurs compared with a new breed of conservatives who disdain Washington money on principle.

Plenty of Democrats bring home the bacon with similar vigor, but none has been simultaneously so critical of government spending.

Cochran, while calling Democratic budgets “dangerous,” has grabbed more than $2.5 billion in earmarks over the past three years, according to the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense. That’s more than any other member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, and it’s almost as much as the $2.8 billion that Mississippi is receiving from President Barack Obama‘s much-criticized economic stimulus package. Shelby, who is coasting to re-election in November, isn’t far behind with about $1 billion over the past three years.

It’s not just their earmarks. The lawmakers routinely wield influence to secure federal aid for struggling local farmers or to stop local program cuts such as those proposed at NASA. Shelby temporarily blocked all of Obama’s nominations recently over disputes about new federal facilities in his state and a Pentagon contract that could create 1,000 jobs in Mobile.

Maya MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said parochial spending is a major obstacle to controlling the deficit. To make significant cuts, she said, nearly everyone will have to sacrifice something. But few will be willing to do so when some states are getting extra goodies because of insider politics.

“Before you can convince someone that their taxes are going to go up or their Medicare payments are going to go down, you have to convince them that the government is budgeting wisely,” she said.

In Huntsville last month, the mood couldn’t have been more different from last summer’s hostile town hall meetings, where voters berated lawmakers over spending. Instead, hundreds of engineers and contractors were on hand to hear what Shelby is doing to keep NASA’s lunar space initiative off the chopping block after the Obama administration proposed privatizing it to save money.

Concern about the issue, and Shelby’s influence atop the spending committee overseeing NASA, was so high that his appearance created a nearly mile-long traffic jam outside the museum. Shelby — introduced as the city’s “champion” by the mayor — got a standing ovation before he said a word.

“I’m bullish on Huntsville,” he told the crowd, blasting the Obama administration over its NASA cuts. Then, without skipping a beat, he described a “ticking time bomb” of federal debt.

The conflicting messages barely registered. Like most interest groups seeking something from Washington, the Huntsville crowd argued that while Congress spends too much overall, the local projects are vital.

“There’s things like the bridges to nowhere, but we here in north Alabama definitely think defense and space exploration is important,” said Al Reisz, a propulsion engineer who has worked on federal aerospace programs for decades.

Shelby’s spending habit extends far beyond missiles and rockets; about a hundred miles south, the senator is almost single-handedly transforming his hometown of Tuscaloosa. Huge swaths of downtown are roped off behind orange construction barriers as the government builds a new federal building and remakes the city’s streetscape.

Just down the road, the University of Alabama is building a state-of-the-art, 900,000-square-foot engineering and science complex. Its domed brick centerpiece is one of many public facilities in the state named after Shelby and his wife, Annette.

Among Cochran’s pet projects this year were $6 million to expand the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park, a leafy, 272-acre campus where workers are busy erecting a new office building. He won $1.4 million to expand the runway at the tiny Golden Triangle Regional Airport in rural east Mississippi, which handles just a few commercial flights a day. Another $35 million went to the Delta Health Alliance.

When pressed, Shelby and Cochran declined to identify home-state programs they would cut. They argue that they’re simply fighting for their states’ fair share and exercising Congress’ duty to decide where money goes, not driving up overall spending levels.

Critics such as Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican who has sworn off earmarks, say the country can no longer afford such parochial pressures. “You can’t ask for hundreds of millions of dollars every year and then expect people to take you seriously about fixing the system,” he said. “We have to focus on getting the federal government out of things, not into things.”

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16 Responses to "The hyprocrisy of Congressional pork"

  1. b mcclellan  April 13, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    To call it earmarks, pork , or their states fair share at this time in our history gives clear indication that the depths of commitment to oath of office have turned to shallows in the hearts of these pretenders.

    A new Federal building here, an airstrip there will have no bearing on lasting and secure employment for those on the dole. The money comes in and is handed to profiteers who pay below scale, outsource the labor, produce sub par work, and then buy media access to blame the place and time as not quite right , we’ll do better next time.

    Meanwhile the Chamber of commerce beats the funding drum with clarion call for the hogs and swine to belly up and fill next the trough not quite to overflowing as waste might wash down to nourish the worms they consider the common man to be…Hack..

  2. tc  April 13, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    It’s only pork if it goes to someone else’s district, and an elected official is no good only if it is someone else’s elected official. Mine is good, that’s why I reelect him.

  3. b mcclellan  April 13, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Maybe a modicum of restraint, and a true examination across the board as to the need v-s the greed on a national level is too far into personal territory as they ply the sharks attack mode, and nictitate at ” our view “?

    Leaders of men..Bah !
    Parasites and puppet masters pawns..

  4. AustinRanter (AKA Gregg)  April 13, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    Oink…Grunt…Squeal: is all that I can muster about this topic.

  5. b mcclellan  April 13, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    Then another form of poetic justice looses no lips Al.
    Alas…..

  6. griff  April 13, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Earmarks make up less than one percent of the federal budget – a proverbial drop in the budgetary bucket. Since the government produces nothing, where does this money come from? Taxes, of course.

    Earmarks also represent a return of our tax dollar investment. Since this money is already allocated to be spent, it falls to the Congress to divvy it up, where there is at least some sort of oversight. That’s just the way it is.

    In terms of government spending, earmarks are a convenient distraction, the cause du jour for folks that really aren’t opposed to the other 99-plus percent of the spending that goes on in Washington.

    You want a real cause? End the f**king Fed already.

    • woody188  April 13, 2010 at 10:32 pm

      60% to military.
      30% to debt service.
      But let’s focus on that 1% pork.

  7. b mcclellan  April 13, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    Feds , wars , in what order does this power glide shift as I wish I had a four speed ?
    Are we stuck in Granny gear yet?

    Yet, is a tremendously large word.

    Why should we not place the simple task of living on the moon at the forefront and do it American style ?
    Duh , it’s not a race if war or beating someone else to it rewards. War is among you ,
    an objective force according to purpose.
    Enough with the blood letting archaic paranoia.
    Think the next best thing to the fountain of youth, bringing it back here and spreading it around?

    Jobs, honest days work , craftsmanship, will die if America does not fling her brains out into space, where she can think, alighting in such peacefulness fluttering as the wings of an Iron Butterfly.

    Pop said , you can’t sh@t your pants just a little, the important thing is to own up to it…

  8. Mightymo  April 14, 2010 at 11:12 am

    I always have to laugh when Americans get angry about deficit spending. No one complains when deficit spending is stimulating economic growth, but wait for the spending to stop and the economy to decline.

    Reagan was the first, and he was the King of deficit spending, yet he is loved by the republiscum. Bush emulated Reaganomics with the same results, but no one complained until the spending stopped and Obama had to clean up the mess.

    There are only two options that can be employed to cut deficit spending, only two! One cut spending, and two increase taxes.

    Here in Calif we are also feeling the pains of deficit spending and decreased tax revenue, but no one can agree on what to do, and there lies the problem for the nation. What do we cut, and how much to increase taxes.

    I say the biggest cuts need to come to the military. I’ve been associated with the military my entire life and it is absolutely amazing how much money they waste. In fact, with such a huge budget, the fact that the AF can not get decent aircraft to replace a 40 year old fleet shows how bad the mismanagement of funds truly is.

    • Almandine  April 14, 2010 at 7:28 pm

      “No one complains when deficit spending is stimulating economic growth”… Wrong!

      Deficit spending has been shown soundly to result in exacerbation of the fiscal problems caused by profligacy.

      So, yes, cut spending… screw tax increases, and anybody who proposes them.

    • griff  April 14, 2010 at 9:11 pm

      I always have to laugh when some one suggests that Bush stopped deficit spending and poor Obama has to triple the budget in order to “clean up the mess.”

      Official Treasury Department numbers reveal that as soon as the Democrats took control of the Congress in 2007, deficit spending increased more than two-fold, on average, compared to Bush’s first six years.

      So little more than three years hence, plus two stimulus packages and a banker bailout, and we’re still heading downhill and gaining speed.

      Oh recovery, wherefore art thou?

  9. griff  April 14, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    Boy, this gets tiring.

    Public debt when Bush took office – 5.728 trillion (rounded)
    Public debt when Dems took the Congress – 8.675 trillion (rounded)
    Public debt when Obama took office – 10.625 trillion (rounded)
    Public debt as of yesterday – 12.831 trillion (rounded)

    That’s right folks – more than two trillion dollars of debt thrown upon our shoulders in little more than a year. In three years since the Democrats have held the purse strings, we’ve already racked up more debt than Bush did in six years.

    The largest defense budget in history this year, dwarfing the defense budgets of the rest of the world combined. Obamacare taxes being levied four years before most of the plan goes into effect. Cap-and-trade on the way.

    One out of five able-bodied Americans out of work while Obama issues green cards and work visas like free scratch-off tickets. Illegal immigration driving down wages and over-burdening our schools and hospitals.

    And we prattle on about such trivial nonsense while our country is sold out from under us.

  10. Carl Nemo  April 14, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    Thanks griff for the tale of woe concerning public debt.

    When Ronald Reagan/H.W. Bush took office the public debt was about one trillion.

    So in thirty years we’ve seen a 1200% increase in the debt. What’s interesting is the most responsible era for modern presidencies was under Bill Clinton with the least increase in the debt. He also enjoyed a large tax revenue boost to the bottom line due to the tech boom and general economic prosperity during his two terms in office.

    Whether we like to admit so or not the most damaging creep in this debt has been under twenty years of modern era Republican presidencies; ie., Reagan/H.W. Bush > H.W. Bush/D. Quayle > G.W.Bush/R. Cheney and now this seemingly democratic spendthrift regime which seems to be continuing the pattern of laid down by republicans, the supposed party of ‘conservatives’.

    Here’s a great link so readers can study the public debt since the days of FDR to present. It seems although the republicans tout fiscal conservatism they are running dogs for the MIC and the “oil patch”; i.e., facilitating the creation of engineered zones of conflict in order to keep the defense sector smiling ear to ear along with the fear factor boosting the price of oil for that sector too.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_debt_by_U.S._presidential_terms

    Eisenhower warned us about he dangers of the MIC in his farewell address. No one heeded his warning. The rest is history.

    Carl Nemo **==

    • griff  April 15, 2010 at 4:18 pm

      It’s true that Clinton happened to be president during the tech boom of the nineties, which of course was just dumb luck. His administration gets all the glory for simply being there, but how quickly we forget that Gramm-Leach-Blilely was passed in the autumn of his regime, paving the way for our current disaster.

      Funny how American ingenuity and hard work created the tech boom, but now we’ve simply sold it off to the third world. Same for the auto industry. That’s what you get for your hard work these days.

      Republicans get most of the blame because they were in power for much of these last forty years, but the results would have been the same regardless of the tag on the door. But it does keep the partisans stocked with talking points.

  11. Carl Nemo  April 16, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    Hi Griff,

    Rest assured my comments were not to support Clinton. I’m not a partisan. The subject of politics is evidently beyond my pay grade since I voted for Obama in 2008. My wife, who’s far sharper than myself was leery of the guy, but followed suit. The rest is history. : (

    I can tell you’ve got fire in the belly and a knowledge base that far exceeds mine or even my instincts for such when it comes to politics.

    So when we get down to the elections of 2012, I’ll simply vote for whomever you recommend, more than likely Ron Paul or his successor… : )

    Carl Nemo **==

    • Almandine  April 16, 2010 at 9:23 pm

      If only RP would be in the mix. His genuineness is not in question, but even so, were you to open a thread (somewhere) suggesting such, the uninformed and the patently unworthy would crawl out of the woodwork to bash any idea of his election. Because, you see… self sufficiency requires integrity and hard work.

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