"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Taxpayers Porked Again

Jeff Jacoby has written an excellent column on the highway bill Congress just passed. The bill really is a scandal, and Republicans are entirely to blame, as Jacoby notes:

At $286.4 billion, the highway bill just passed by Congress is the most expensive public works legislation in US history. In addition to funding the interstate highway system and other federal transportation programs, it sets a new record for pork-barrel spending, earmarking $24 billion for a staggering 6,376 pet projects, spread among virtually every congressional district in the land. The enormous bill -- 1,752 pages long -- wasn't made available for public inspection until just before it was brought to a vote, and so, as The New York Times noted, ''it is safe to bet that none of the lawmakers, not even the main authors, had read the entire package."

That didn't stop them from voting for it all but unanimously -- 412 to 8 in the House, 91 to 4 in the Senate.

Democrats voted overwhelmingly for the bill, too, of course, but Republicans have continuously presented themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility. They have once again proven the absurdity of that posture.

It is especially revealing and contemptible that the bill's authors did not make it public until the vote was about to take place. No need to hear from the taxpayers before deciding how to spend our money. Perhaps there would have been less support for "highway" projects meant to benefit no one but the constituencies of particular legislators, such as the following:

Meander through the bill's endless line items and you find a remarkable variety of ''highway" projects, many of which have nothing to do with highways: Horse riding facilities in Virginia ($600,000). A snowmobile trail in Vermont ($5.9 million). Parking for New York's Harlem Hospital ($8 million). A bicycle and pedestrian trail in Tennessee ($532,000). A daycare center and adjoining park-and-ride facility in Illinois ($1.25 million). Dust control mitigation for rural Arkansas ($3 million). The National Packard Museum in Ohio ($2.75 million). A historical trolley project in Washington ($200,000). And on and on and on.

John McCain (R-AZ) was one of the few who voted against the bill, as Jacoby notes:

Arizona Senator John McCain, one of the four who voted no, called the bill a ''monstrosity" and wondered whether it will ever be possible to restore fiscal sanity to Congress. If ''the combination of war, record deficits, and the largest public debt in the country's history" can't break lawmakers' addiction to overspending, he asked, what can? ''It would seem that this Congress can weather any storm thrown at it, as long as we have our pork life-saver to cling to."

McCain is a Republican, and it might surprise younger readers to learn that spending discipline was once a basic Republican principle. Hard to believe in this era of bloated Republican budgets and the biggest-spending presidential administration in 40 years -- but true. Once upon a time Republicans actually described themselves with pride as fiscal conservatives. That was one of the reasons they opposed the promiscuous use of pork-barrel earmarks, which are typically used to bypass legislative standards, reward political favorites, and assert congressional control over state and local affairs.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, Lord Acton said. And those whose power is not absolute, I would add, will find ways to augment it. Fiscally, the Republicans have just pushed us farther down the highway to hell, once again.

11 comments:

James Elliott said...

Mr. Karnick, I'd like to commend you for the level of integrity in this post.

S. T. Karnick said...

Thank you. I greatly appreciate it.

James Elliott said...

Hey, while we're all mad about the ridiculous pork-barrel highway bill, can we talk about the most ridiculous energy bill ever?

Kathy Hutchins said...

It was when I lived in Indiana that the impulse to vote LP was strongest. Every 2.5 years you're either looking at a porker highway bill or an even more porcine agriculture bill. Viewed from the vantage point of a flat red state, it's like the Summer and Winter Olympics of Republican fiscal hypocrisy. Bleh.

S. T. Karnick said...

So true, Kathy.

Mr. Elliott, feel free to add your comments about the energy bill. Pork is pork, and reminders of federal profligacy are always useful.

James Elliott said...

OK! So, what's with giving $2.5 billion in tax rebates to an industry where one company (ExxonMobil) can clear over $7 billion in PURE profit in a single fiscal quarter?!

S. T. Karnick said...

I am for ending all subsidies. Every one.

The Liberal Anonymous said...

How about lederhosen subsidies, recently axed by the German government?

Certainly you can see the value in subsidizing lederhosen!

S. T. Karnick said...

Nope, sorry, I'm going to be stubborn about this. Lederhosen subsidies must go.

Kathy Hutchins said...

So, what's with giving $2.5 billion in tax rebates to an industry where one company (ExxonMobil) can clear over $7 billion in PURE profit in a single fiscal quarter?!

Apparently the difference between us, James, is that I oppose corporate welfare in principle. I don't seek out particular industries, which happen to be either "too profitable" or undesirable for some other left-wing reason, and oppose their handouts. It's all bad. Exxon/Mobil doesn't need welfare. Neither does the organic goat cheese maker down the road.

James Elliott said...

Kathy, I'm going to have to ask where the hell you got that difference between us from? I was just pointing out one demonstration of particularly egregious pork. Kind of like bad pork chops, only worth billions of dollars.

In fact, I agree with you for the most part. Any subsidies that, say, a small business (say, your goat cheese farmer) might need to survive could come in tax breaks. But if Hunter can have a scale of relative evil on torture, I can have a scale of relative egregiousness on subsidies. So, subsidies going to industries and companies that are not struggling is bad, and subsidies to a poor independent goat farmer who's struggling to make ends meet are less bad.