Sunday, November 26, 2006

Earmarks in the Next Congress

Anyone who expected the amount of pork Congress doles out to change with the Democratic Congress taking office in January had unreasonable expectations. Certainly we need to be reducing the amount of local pet projects that accomplish little, but there's such a universal incentive for them that there's no getting rid of them. The New York Times today has a good discussion of pork in Congress.
Meet the new cardinals, as the chairmen of the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees are known on Capitol Hill. Many have a lot in common with the Republicans they will succeed.

All have worked for years to climb to their posts, where the authority to grant earmarks puts them among the most powerful lawmakers in Congress. Like Mr. Inouye and Mr. Stevens, many have developed unusual bipartisan camaraderie while divvying up projects. By longstanding, informal agreement, the majority typically doles out about 60 percent of the money for earmarks and lets the minority pass out the rest. And they form a united front against limitations on the earmark process.

“What is good for the goose is good for the gander,” Senator Patty Murray, the Washington Democrat who is set to become chairwoman of the transportation subcommittee, said last fall in a speech defending an Alaska Republican’s allocation of more than $200 million in federal money for a bridge to remote Gravina, Alaska, with a population of 50. It became notorious as the “Bridge to Nowhere.”

“I tell my colleagues, if we start cutting funding for individual projects, your project may be next,” Ms. Murray warned. To anyone who might vote against the bridge, Ms. Murray threatened that her subcommittee would be “taking a long, serious look at their projects.” Every Democrat on the Appropriations Committee voted against an amendment to strike the bridge, and after threats from Ms. Murray and Mr. Stevens, only 15 senators voted for the amendment. The bridge’s future is unclear.

The fact is that while all legislators may rail about the pork that others are getting, and all voters dislike the pork that other districts/states recieve, all legislators love their own pork projects and all voters love the pet projects in their district that their legislator delivers to them. It creates an overwhelming electoral incentive to spend on things like the bridge to nowhere. I don't know how you create a culture of responsibility in DC regarding that, but its clear that there is an incentive for each legislator to oppose any changes.

1 comment:

Les said...

How do you like the MAX light rail lines--from PDX to Gresham and PDX to Hillsboro? Are they cutting emissions? Gasoline usage? Are the helping guide growth?

Earmarks, pal, both of 'em. I know. I helped perpetrate the "crimes."

It's hazardous to speak (or write) in absolutes.

Les AuCoin
U.S. Congressman, D-OR 1st District (ret.)