This is just one example, but of course there are zillions. Richard Shelby, Senator from Alabama, has put a blanket hold on 70 Obama nominees. Not because he has any concerns about those nominees, but because he is pouting that funds haven’t been released to build an FBI explosives center in Alabama and because he thinks the Air Force tanker procurement system isn’t fair to Northrup Grumman, which has facilities in Alabama. So let’s be clear: despite the massive deficit, Senator Shelby wants pork for his district, and he is willing to let all sorts of government agencies go unmanned until he gets his way.
And let me remind you that Alabama has 4.7 million people, or 1.7% of the US population. So one guy, representing 2% of the population, can put big chunks of government on hold until he gets his share of wasteful spending. And then he will give speeches about the importance of fiscal discipline. This is why polls show that Americans no longer respect Congress.
Read the story here, complain on his website here.
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.