Friday, September 02, 2005

Earmarked for Treason

In my outrage and frustration over the inadequacy of governmental response to Katrina I've been, perhaps, a little harsh in my criticism of the President particularly, and Republicans generally. Not that the criticism isn't warrented, it is, with more to come.

But I would be remiss in my duties as your trusted CaliBlogger if I didn't point out that there is plenty of blame to go around.

I'll note for the record, for example, that former President Clinton has of late been just as disingenuous in claiming that the flooding we now see in New Orleans was unforseeable. It was foreseeable, and by no lesser group than Presidents Bush and Clinton's own Army Corp of Engineers, it's just that those needs were ignored:

Both the Bush and Clinton administrations proposed budgets that low-balled the needs. Local politicians grabbed whatever money they could and declared victory. And the public didn't exactly demand tax increases to pay for flood-control and hurricane-protection projects.

Just last year, the Army Corps of Engineers sought $105 million for hurricane and flood programs in New Orleans. The White House slashed the request to about $40 million. Congress finally approved $42.2 million, less than half of the agency's request.

And the Presidents are far from alone in their failure. Indeed it could well be argued that the single largest failure lies with Congress.

The recently passed roads bill, while shortchanging the Gulf Coast, managed to shower dollars on the pet projects of powerful congressional leaders based, not on national neeed, but almost exclusively on the amount of power a particular Congressman wields:
Pork has always been part of politics, and a little bit of it can help grease the gears of government. What makes this legislation remarkable is the sheer magnitude of pet projects, and the shamelessness of the members of Congress promoting them.

Tucked into the highway and mass transit bill are funds for bus stops, parking lots, hiking paths, museums, even horse trails and a "deer avoidance system."

Motorists will pay at the pump to finance:

• $223 million for a bridge linking Ketchikan, Alaska, to an offshore island where only 50 people live.

• $231 million for another locally controversial bridge linking Anchorage to an undeveloped point of land nearby — a bridge the bill names "Don Young's Way," for the Alaska congressman and Transportation Committee chairman who pulled off the boondoggle.

• $5.8 million for a snowmobile trail in Vermont.

• $3 million for "dust control mitigation" on Arkansas' rural roads.

• $480,000 to rehabilitate a 19th century warehouse on the Erie Canal in New York.

Young is the champion at tapping the Treasury for local projects, mandating almost $1 billion for public works across his thinly populated state. And he self-aggrandizingly twisted the bill's name into the cumbersome "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act — A Legacy for Users." The resulting acronym, SAFETEA-LU, redeems a promise to name the bill for his wife, Lu.

Other powerful members of Congress have used their clout similarly. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., grabbed $630 million for his largely agricultural district. Rep. James Oberstar, top Democrat on the transportation panel, snagged $121 million for his Minnesota district, including $560,000 for a Paul Bunyan State Trail.

All such stuff gets inserted into appropriations bills through the notorious earmark, whereby a Congressman can insert particularly egregious bits of spending into teh bill without it going through the rigors of peer review. The Congress as a whole is then faces the choice of rejecting a, typically, critical spending bill, or accepting the pork-laden earmarks. The same decision is faced by the President.

And though the earmark has long been with us, it has gotten much worse of late:
Late in Ronald Reagan's presidency, he decided to take a stand against Congress' habit of squandering money on pet projects of no national value. He vetoed the 1987 highway bill because it was $10 billion over his budget and included more than 100 projects demanded by members of Congress.

"I haven't seen this much lard since I handed out blue ribbons at the Iowa State Fair," Reagan said at the time.

He should see what's happening now. President Bush flies to Illinois today to sign a transportation bill that's $12 billion fatter than he wanted and uses accounting gimmicks to pretend otherwise. Worse, it contains a whopping 6,371 congressional "earmarks," a 50-fold increase over the number Reagan rejected.

One reason, Bush Republicans, the other, lobbyists:
November 10, 2004
A news item appearing this November in a Virginia newspaper reveals the emergence of what may be a lucrative new lobbying strategy that could substantially increase federal pork-barrel spending. In the past, earmark-seeking entities approached earmark-providing lobbyists for assistance in getting a piece of the federal budget. But in this new strategy, lobbyists openly sell such services to unserved institutions and individuals by convincing them that they might be eligible for an earmark, providing that they are willing to pay a four-figure monthly retainer. [Emphasis mine-CK]

Currently the administration and congress are seeking to divert attention from their corrupt and irresponsible behavior by focusing their wrath on the admittedly woefully inadequate disaster response. But as heads cool, and minds take over, it is past time to hold the President, and especialy Congress responsible for the pork-laden earmark process and the feckless use of our nation's resources.

As we can see from the potentially avoidable tragedy of New Orlean's burst levees, such negligence borders on the criminal, if not the treasonous.

The Congressional earmark process must be severly curtailed, if not eliminated entirely, and in the 2006 mid-terms I expect a promise to that effect from any Congresscritter with the barest hope of being elected.

[x-posted at]


T.L. Stanley said...

You were right on target in spreading the blame around to congress and all the pork-laden spending bills that are approved regularly. Then, there is not enough money to fix real problems. Take care.

Anonymous said...

Hastert should be castrated and forced to eat his own balls.

Hastert will be gone as House Majority Speaker very soon, and if not very soon, then he'll be gone by next year after November. Anyone in CA won't be sad to see him go. And fuck his constituents for voting in a heartless demon into office. I wish a smart tornado would touch down and utterly destroy the homes of any Republican puke who voted for Bush and Hastert. They oughta be killed, at the least.