Pat Toomey of the Club for Growth wrote an op-ed recently in which he described a nationwide poll that the Club recently commissioned. This poll showed that 54% of people would prefer a congressman who cuts overall federal spending, including spending in their district, while only 29% would prefer a candidate who increases federal spending but keep some of that spending coming home in pork barrel projects.
I’m no expert on polls and polling, nor have I seen the details of this poll, so I can’t comment on how they phrased the question or whether they skewed the data. Certainly the Club for Growth would want this poll to show exactly what they are saying it did, since the Club hates earmarks more than I hate flip-flops. But let’s assume that this was a well-executed poll. Are Americans really ready to let go of pork barrel spending in their district? I hope so.
This is an exceedingly rare occurrence, Halley’s Comet (also see) rare, when I want the same thing as the Club for Growth. In general, I think of the Club as representing greedy, mean-spirited, upper-middle-class older white men. But I really do hope this poll is right, because pork barrel politics are awful. Earmarks make for bad policy and they waste precious resources. In addition, they encourage irresponsible behavior in voters, who get trained to support any crappy project, as long as it brings federal dollars to their community.
But maybe, just maybe, that attitude is changing, and the Club for Growth poll is capturing this change. Press coverage of pork has been building over the past few years, and the Jack Abramoff scandal blew the whole lobbyist-earmark connection way into the mainstream. It’s possible that people, at least 54% of people, have realized that the overall cost of pork is greater than the benefit it brings to their district. It’s possible that they would rather their representatives focus on fixing problems than creating busy work in the district.
News of Ted Stevens’ indictment is coming out as I write this. He was an apologetic king of pork, with his reign culminating in the famous $320 million Bridge to Nowhere. Maybe that bridge served as pork’s crowning feast, so egregious that it finally made Americans realize how corrosive earmarks truly are.
Tip O’Neil was right- all politics is local. Pork can be helpful and critical to communities around the country who elect people who can bring resources (health care facilities, school yards, parks, infrastructure). Bad pork gets through because earmarks are not transparent. Let’s see what the so-called Pork is first, and react accordingly, rather than eliminate earmarks all together. Check out http://www.sunlightfoundation.com/exposingearmarks.
I agree that federal dollars can be helpful and critical to communities. But why does it have to be in the form of an earmark? Why should communities with senior representatives get more dollars? Let’s put the needs into a process whereby they are analyzed and funded as appropriate, rather than letting easily lobbied congresspeople force them through.
When you look at the annual Pork Book produced by Citizens Against Government Waste (www.cagw.org), it is maddening.
To be counted as pork, a line item has to meet two of the following:
* Requested by only one chamber of Congress;
* Not requested by the President;
* Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding;
* Not the subject of congressional hearings;
* Not specifically authorized;
* Not competitively awarded;
* Serves only a local or special interest.
You can argue about whether each of those criteria are critical screens, but I think they all point to a lack of broad support, or broad interest, in an issue and for my tax dollars I would prefer that they fund national rather than local needs.
More importantly, if you look at pork $s per capita, 11 states are above average and the other 39 below. In absolute $ terms, 22 states are above average and 28 below.
You would think the “below average” crowd should be able to figure out that they are giving more than they are getting wouldn’t you?!?!?
The final indignity is that since 1991 (when CAGW started tracking and publishing its listings), they have identified $271 billion in pork ($17.2 billion in 2008 alone).
Want to make Social Security solvent or have a new bike path in your district?
Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of people would rather have that bike path. That may be related to human psychology, which seems to favor the near and concrete to the far and abstract, or to a simple free rider problem, but in either case I would like to see my congressman (or woman, since my rep is Nancy Pelosi) educate and lead the public rather than follow.