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May 3, 2006

Congressional Pork: The Other Red Meat

Kevin E. Dayhoff

A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll provided insight into the mind of the electorate. We are tired of pork, otherwise known as “earmarks.” And, rightfully so.

Even the least knowledgeable among us of the machinations and meanderings of Congress understands that someday the bill for our elected representative current obsession with credit card debt will eventually have to be paid.

Wasn’t it the Clinton administration that was so often criticized for not having any convictions, vision or plan of its own, except to go in the direction the latest poll? Maybe that’s why there is so much emphasis these days on poll numbers.

Bold leaders lead and only spineless superficial political sycophants are pre-occupied with news media fad polls. News media polls often involve selective trivialities trumping substance in an obvious attempt to distort the facts or promote an agenda.

Nevertheless, the results of this current Wall Street Journal/NBC poll are resonating as congressional pork has evolved from a minor annoyance into a major irritation. Voters are noticing that Congress has a bad habit of irresponsibly including local project expenditures into appropriation bills, which bypass the budgeting process, are authorized without debate, and have nothing to do with the focus of the national issues being addressed.

Advancing age allows us to ignore the folly of becoming unnecessarily excited about the manic swings and obsessive gnashing of teeth over “inside baseball” issues that ultimately will be but a mere blip in the history books. Thirty-five years from now, the hysteria over the Valerie Plame affair will be little more than a sentence in a chapter on the beginnings of this century. But those reading that sentence still will be cognizant of the debt with which we saddled them.

The agitation over the newfound, undisciplined spending and fiscal irresponsibility of the Republican-led U. S. Congress has staying power; and, if we are not careful, it may very well become a real issue in this fall’s elections.

Let’s face it, Kool-aid drinking Democrats, who really feel that pulling the troops out of Iraq is a ticket to winning a majority in Congress in November fall, are just as nuts as Cindy Sheehan. However, the specter of fiscal excesses and perceptions of corruption, which are becoming a legacy of the current Republican majority, are starting to stick in the throat of the average voter.

Thankfully, no organization in history can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory like the Democrats. That said, things could change. After all, who would have thought that the Republicans in Washington would start spending money like a bunch of drunken sailors?

John Harwood, writing in the Wall Street Journal recently reported: “There's almost nothing that the public is satisfied with," says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducts the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll with Republican counterpart Bill McInturff. "What they're telling you is: they want change on every front."

The fall elections are only six months away and as the 1994 election approached, none of us saw the pendulum swinging as precipitously Republican as the results later proved – or we had hoped. It could swing the other way this year.

Mr. Harwood, in the same column, emphasized: “Approval of the job Congress is doing has plummeted to 22% … That's worse than the marks a Democratic-controlled Congress received at a similar point in 1994, the year Newt Gingrich led Republicans back to power on Capitol Hill.”

Mr. Harwood went on to say: “In particular, Americans, who don't approve of Congress, blame their sour mood on partisan contention and gridlock in Washington… 34% cite corruption among lawmakers. Among all Americans, a 39% plurality says the single most important thing for Congress to accomplish this year is curtailing budgetary "earmarks" benefiting only certain constituents.”

What has brought much of the rancor over earmarks to a head recently is the junk that has been imbedded into the emergency supplemental budget for the purpose of continuing funding the war in Iraq and Katrina hurricane relief. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill if the “earmarks” are not removed.

Mary Katharine Ham, writing on Hugh point out that among the “emergencies” Senators have found in their states are: seafood promotion strategies, a driver’s license facility in Georgia, and a $700 million railroad relocation in Mississippi.

To which, Sen. John McCain (R., AZ) quipped: “We've moved a long way from emergency supplemental… Americans, eat seafood. It's good for you! There we go. The marketing plan is complete. C-SPAN has millions of viewers… strike the fishiest-smelling pork in this bill."

Senator McCain continued fuming, "It's very clear that what we have here is a broken process. Any defense money that we're taking up should have been a part of the normal budgetary process.... We bring it to the floor and it's filled with items such as this ridiculous (seafood marketing plan)...and it grows, and grows, and grows.”

Ms. Ham picks up the story at that point by saying that Senator McCain then cited the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. “Thank goodness,” she said. “Maybe his Republican colleagues will listen….”

Senator McCain then ominously cautioned: "When are we gonna respond to the American people? Everywhere I go, my constituents tell me they're sick of this… Immigration reform ranks behind earmark reform.”

Yes, we are sick of this mindless vote buying in our elected representatives’ home states.

Chuck Colson recently wrote: “Last year some 15,000 earmarks cost taxpayers $47 billion dollars – and none of it goes through a budget process. They are simply monies set aside in specific spending bills for particular projects, and some of them are absolutely outrageous – things like studying the migratory patterns of coyotes.”

“Twelve years ago Republicans were elected on a platform of stopping this massive gravy train,” Mr. Colson warned.

Many solutions to sopping up this pork gravy train have been discussed during “pork awareness month,” but the one that many hope for is giving the president the line item veto.

Unless the congressional Republican leadership regains its senses soon, undisciplined Republicans are serving up a heaping helping of congressional pork, the other red meat, for the migratory Democrat coyotes this fall.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster, MD E-mail him at:

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