Politicians have long bragged about how much federal money they were bringing back home, and it worked because citizens of one's district or state knew that tax money sent to D.C. that did not come back in the form of direct services or greater national security would simply be spent on projects in states with representatives who were better at getting their way. That brought about a natural process known as pork-barreling, in which every successful representative tried to get the most federal money possible spent in his state, which led to an incredible amount of taxpayer money being spent on boondoggles such as roads to literally nowhere and federally financed hot dog museums. Politicians would brag about how much bacon they were bringing home, regardless of how unconstitutional and worthless the projects actually were.
Now that the Republicans have been in power for a few years and have become openly addicted to pork-barreling, it's no longer fashionable.
Well, good! As the New York Times reports, challengers in some congressional and Senate races are actually talking about their opponents' success at bringing home this federal money—and using the incumbents' spending as a weapon, "portraying them as symbols of corruption and waste in Washington," as the Times puts it. The national controversy over these "earmarks"—which finally occurred when the hated (by the media) Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress—has begun to turn the public against this wasteful spending—in principle (see below). Aspiring politicians are quick to take advantage, as the Times story notes:
And so, in a reversal of tactics, challengers here and in other states like Montana, Ohio and Rhode Island are telling voters what the incumbents have brought home, in the hopes, it seems, that the national controversy over the pet projects known as earmarks has come home, too.
"In a time of war, and with the costs of Katrina, we've got to look at what we want to have and what we've got to have," said Mr. Ricketts, who has never run for office but was ahead of the two other Republican candidates in a recent poll. "We've got to end earmarks — or at least reform them."
The Times story correctly observes that it's far too early now to tell whether the tactic will work, but the old reality probably still applies, as this comment from a Nebraska voter suggests:"I am critical of the fact that the federal government is worried about paying for parking garages — and for a million other things like that," said Steve McCollister, who heard Mr. Ricketts speak at a recent fund-raiser in west Omaha. "But they are. And if they are, I want my senator to be in there. I want Nebraska to compete."
That's probably the way most people feel. And despite the fact that nearly all of these projects are wasteful and are not constitutionally appropriate candidates for federal spending, it's important to remember that the real bloat is in the entitlement programs, corporate welfare (including farm subsidies), and national defense. The federal budget is in large part an accumulation of politicians' attempts to buy votes in order to remain in office, using our money.
That's the way the system works, and that's not going to change until the federal government is made subject to the kind of constitutionally imposed tax and budget limitations (known as taxpayers' bills of rights, or TABORs) many states have implemented or are considering.
The only solution is a real federal TABOR.