Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Pork (page 1 / 1)

The President’s infrastructure investment argument

The President’s infrastructure investment argument →

From Keith Hennessey:

Geographic politics distorts and often dominates government investment in physical infrastructure. Highway funds and airport funds especially are allocated in part based on which Members of Congress have maximum procedural leverage over the spending bill. Even if you could somehow get Congress to stop earmarking infrastructure spending (good luck), and even if you could rely on the Executive Branch not to allow their own political goals to influence how they allocate funds, local geographic politics would come into play at the state level, since much federal infrastructure spending flows through State governments. This is where reality most falls short of a valid theoretical starting point for increasing productivity and long-term growth.

Keith argues that infrastructure spending isn't useless but it does face a lot of problems that prevent it from quickly creating jobs. It's not a great "investment in America".

Flight Delays, Courtesy of Congress

Delays are caused by flight volumes that the FAA Administrator's ineptly-managed Air Traffic Control system cannot handle. The skies are full, not because there's no more room in the air, but because the flight controllers can't keep up with any more flights.

What's Congress's solution to this problem? Why, funding a Peace Garden instead of updating air-traffic control towers.

Want to know what had to be cut from the bill in order to get the North Dakota Peace Garden? Oh, just a silly little project that would have updated technology in air-traffic control towers. But the Peace Garden wasn't the only beneficiary of freeing up funds from making air travel safer. California will also get a "mule and packer museum". Perhaps Americans can start traveling by donkey instead.

Senator Tom Coburn attempted to stop the pork party, to no avail. He offered an amendment that would have forbidden earmarks on transportation bills until all deficient bridges had been properly updated. That just barely failed -- by a vote of 82 to 14. Eighty-two Senators voted to prioritize pork over infrastructure maintenance.

In fact, the pork comes to one out of every eight dollars spent on transportation now. In the past eleven years, earmarks have increased a whopping 1150%, while the dollar value of the pork has increased over 300% in the same period. Ninety-nine percent of these earmarks bypassed planning agencies, meaning that the monies got no review for prioritization. How many bridges could have been repaired with that money over the last decade?

Still believe that Congress should manage a multi-trillion dollar budget? Still believe that government is more interested in your safety and well-being than a private company would be? Private companies would be embarrassed to run the air-traffic control system that the FAA runs. Private companies would be embarrassed to have roads and bridges as well-maintained as the governments.

Don't put your faith in government spending. It's the worst "investment" you could possibly make.

Of Bridges and Taxes

Should we raise taxes to pay for road and bridge repair? In the wake of the Minnesota bridge collaspse, many politicians are certainly saying that we should. But what have they done with the road money that they already have?

Of Bridges and Taxes

James Oberstar, the Minnesota Democrat who runs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, recently stood beside the wreckage and recommended an increase in the 18.4-cent-a-gallon federal gas tax, as a way to prevent future bridge collapses. His wing man, Alaska Republican and former Transportation Chairman Don Young, agrees wholeheartedly.

As it happens, these are the same men who played the lead role in the $286 billion 2005 federal highway bill. That's the bill that diverted billions of dollars of gas tax money away from urgent road and bridge projects toward Member earmarks for bike paths, nature trails and inefficient urban transit systems.

As recently as July 25, Mr. Oberstar sent out a press release boasting that he had "secured more than $12 million in funding" for his state in a recent federal transportation and housing bill. But $10 million of that was dedicated to a commuter rail line, $250,000 for the "Isanti Bike/Walk Trail," $200,000 to bus services in Duluth, and $150,000 for the Mesabi Academy of Kidspeace in Buhl. None of it went for bridge repair.

Even transportation dollars aren't scarce. Minnesota spends $1.6 billion a year on transportation--enough to build a new bridge over the Mississippi River every four months. But nearly $1 billion of that has been diverted from road and bridge repair to the state's light rail network that has a negligible impact on traffic congestion. Last year part of a sales tax revenue stream that is supposed to be dedicated for road and bridge construction was re-routed to mass transit. The Minnesota Department of Economic Development reports that only 2.8% of the state's commuters ride buses or rail to get to work, but these projects get up to 25% of the funding.

Dedicated to Waste

Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens (supposedly a Republican) seems dedicated to wasting money -- he's setting aside Federal money for the development of baby food made from salmon. I'm not sure why this is a Federal issue. Millions of children have grown up without the benefit of baby food made from salmon. I do know that it's just one more wasteful use of my tax dollars. If you want to know why my wife and I complain about losing $600 a month to the Federal government -- this is one of those reasons.

Senator -- if you believe in the project so much, please put your own money into it. Don't put my money into it and then try to tell me that you're doing it for my own good.

(Hat tip to Radley Balko.)

Lobbying "Reform"

The Senate missed two golden opportunities to reform the lobbying process yesterday. First, they chose not limit earmarks (hat tip to Captain's Quarters in future appropriations bills. Given that earmarks are one of the largest sources of purely wasteful spending that the Congress engages in, this is a big disappointment.

Earmarks are pet spending projects that Senators can attach to almost any bill. Currently, multiple earmarks are bundled together into a bill, then voted on as a package. Earmarks also provide plenty of opportunity for lawmakers to reward lobbyists who donate to a Senator's campaign.

Secondly, the Senate voted down the Coburn / Obama amendment to the lobbying bill. This amendment "directs the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to establish a publicly available database of the more than $300 billion the federal government spends each year via contracts and grants to more than 30,000 groups, businesses and organizations."

Nothing would limit government corruption like creating a giant database that shows exactly who the money goes to. This database would quickly expose any politician that tried to give away taxpayers' money to family, friends, or lobbyists. It's somewhat surprising, then, that Senator Trent Lott felt compelled to raise a "Rule 22 Point of Order" when the amendment was brought up for a vote.

The Senate's Rule 22 refers to the germaneness - i.e. relevance - of a proposed amendment. Translated from the Washington legislatese in which senators and congressmen so often hide, this means Lott thinks making sure the public can see who is getting more than $300 billion of their tax dollars has nothing to do with congressional ethics.

Put another way, Lott just told taxpayers to butt out.

Yes, indeed. Senator Lott doesn't think that knowing where the money goes is relevant to lobbying reform. I wonder why that is Senator? Do you have anything you'd like to hide from the American people? Or do you just believe that being accountable to the voter is an idea who's time has not yet come?

Once again, I'm disappointed in the Senate Republicans. For a party facing a tough election year, they're certainly not doing anything to inspire the voters, excite fiscal conservatives, or even show that they're aware of the election.

[tags]earmarks, pork[/tags]

This entry was tagged. Earmarks Pork


Larry Kudlow reported this morning on a pathetic state of affairs in the U.S. Senate. Currently, Senator Gregg's (R-N.H.) Budget Committee is writing and debating the Senate's budget resolution. So far, the commitee has managed to drop out entitlement cuts and is currently working on adding even more pork to the budget. Good job guys. You've succeeded in completely losing whatever small modicum of support I was willing to give to Congressional Republicans.

Let me make this perfectly clear: from this moment on, I will actively work to defeat every Republican Congressman or Senator up for reelection. I will actively work to reelect every Democrat Congressman or Senator up for reelection. For out of state races, I will donate money to Democrat candidates, not Republican candidates. For in-state races, I will make phone calls and literature drops on behalf of Democrat candidates. I will do anything and everything I can to ensure that only Democrats are elected. There is only one thing you can do to change my mind: grow a backup and stand up for the American taxpayer. Short of that, I see no reason why I should work for a Republican majority rather than a Democrat majority.

To all Republicans working to cut the budget -- you'd better find a way to convince your big spending colleagues to toe the line. You might start out by reminding them of all of the Congressional perks and committee assignments that they'll lose if Republicans lose the majority. At this point, I see no reason to give time, money, or effort to the Republican party as long as it is unserious about practicing fiscal conservatism. True, Democrats won't be any better. On the other hand, if big-spending budget bills are passed by a Democrat majority, President Bush just might remember where he hid the veto pen.

I'm willing to gamble. Are you?

Heating Assistance

It must be an election year. Wisconsin Republicans indicated that they would work with Governor Doyle on a heating bill. Quick recap: Republicans hold a majority in both the state Assembly and the state Senate. Governor Doyle peremptorily summoned the legislature into session after the Republicans had previously refused to increase state heating aid. I have a few questions I'd like to ask about this plan.

Doyle wants to set aside $6 million from an environmental cleanup fund to offer one-time heating assistance to people who do not currently qualify for aid. Some 30,000 families would qualify for $200 to $300 dollars apiece, Doyle's office estimates. The Republicans agreed to work with Doyle after the governor last week called for a special session of the Legislature on Tuesday to take up his plan, which would expand eligibility to a family of four with an income lower than $40,000.

How were these numbers arrived at? How many people four-member families with an income lower than $40,000 are there? How many of them desperately need this aid? How much heat does the Governor want to pay for? A passable 68 degrees or a balmy 75 degrees? One is necessary, one is simply extravagant. Does the Governor's plan take this into account? Is this a true necessity or simply a vote-buying effort by a Governor desperate for good news? Will this money really be taken from the environmental cleanup fund or will Doyle later use the environmental cleanup fund as an excuse to raise taxes further?

Families "are left to worry for another week about how to pay the bills and whether they'll have to choose between heating and eating," [Governor Doyle] said at a news conference.

This statement is extremely misleading. Wisconsin law prohibits heating companies from cutting off the heat if citizens are unable to pay their bills. People can catch up on their bills during the cheaper summer months. If paying large bills during the winter is a worry, most utility companies allow people to pay on a "budget plan" that distributes the payments evenly throughout the entire year. No citizen of Wisconsin need to choose between heating and eating. If money is tight, the state allows them to choose eating now and worry about the heating bills later.

The eligibility expansion could help people such as Deanna Topper of Mount Horeb, a single working mother who was denied heating assistance last year. Topper, a case manager for a social services agency, said her heating bill had doubled since that time and any state aid "would be a huge relief."

I am sure it would be huge relief if the state would help. I would consider it a huge relief if the state of Wisconsin would help pay for my cable bill. That doesn't mean that the state needs to pay for Ms. Topper's bills.

Actually, I wonder if Ms. Topper has cable television? I don't know if she does or not, but let's hypothesize that she does -- just as a thought experiment. If so, I would argue that the state is subsidizing her cable bills. By helping to pay for her heat, they would be allowing her to spend her own money on a cable subscription. I'm not sure what the rates in Mount Horeb are, but here in Madison I would have to spend $45 a month to get cable television. Over the course of a winter, that would be a cool $225. If Wisconsin is determined to give people another $200-300 a month, they should force people to choose between cable television and heating, to pinpoint just one luxury that 62% of all Americans enjoy.

Fitzgerald, co-chairman of the Legislature's budget committee, said he also questioned spending $6 million more because the state and federal government are already spending a record $80 million to help the poor in Wisconsin pay their heating bills this year.

This has been one of the mildest winters on record for Wisconsin. We're already spending a record amount of money to pay for heating bills. A record amount of money in a year that has been very mild. Why do we need to spend even more money on heating? Keep in mind that no one will have their heat cut off this winter. No one will freeze to death if we don't spend this money. Why is it so urgent that we spend it now? Why are Wisconsin's Republicans so eager to help the governor spend even more money?

The Necessity of Killing Pork

If you have any doubts whatsoever about the desparate need for reforming government spending, I'd invite you to read The Great American Pork Barrel from Harper's Magazine. I am disgusted by the manner in which our Congressional "representatives" act when spending the nation's tax dollars.

There was no time to produce a clean copy, so the version of the omnibus bill that Congress voted on was a fourteen-inch-thick clump of papers with corrections, deletions, and additions on virtually every page. Handwritten notes peppered the margins; typefaces varied from section to section and from paragraph to paragraph. First made available to lawmakers at around 12:15 A.M. on November 20 (and only to those who happened to be browsing the House Rules Committee website, where it was posted), the omnibus bill came to a vote before the full House some sixteen hours later, at approximately 4:00 that afternoon, and before the Senate at 8:42 that evening. For the legislators who approved it"”by a margin of 344"’51 in the House and 65"’30 in the Senate"”reading the 3,320-page bill before the vote would have been a mathematical impossibility.

As approved at the November 17 appropriations meeting, the Foreign Operations bill had contained a mere nine earmarks. The omnibus measure, which was completed after two feverish days of work, allocated money for 11,772 separate earmarks. ... In the end, the bill's earmarks were worth a combined total of nearly $16 billion"”a figure almost as large as the annual budget of the Department of Agriculture and roughly twice that of the Environmental Protection Agency. It was the biggest single piece of pork-barrel legislation in American history.

If you still believe that Congress should be in charge of medical care, education, retirement savings, and a host of other issues, I'd love to hear your reasons why. Any business that operated in this manner would find itself facing bankruptcy in short order. That supposedly mature adults would behave in this manner is frightening.

Killing the Porker

Thanks goes to Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold for co-sponsoring the Pork Barrel Reduction Act along with Senators Coburn, McCain, Bayh, Kyl, Ensign, Graham, Sununu, DeMint, and Cornyn. Pork Busters is asking for you to help get this bill passed. Many people in the Senate (I'm looking at you, Senators Murkoswki and Stevens) will oppose this effort to reign in government waste.

You can read the full text of the Pork Barrel Reduction Act (S.2265) online and track the Senators who support it and oppose it.

Wasting Your Inheritance

The Heritage Foundation has published a new report entitled "Federal Spending: By the Numbers". If you value fiscal conservatism, if you value living within your means, if you wish your government shared your values, you'll find this to be a depressing read. If this keeps up, we'll have nothing to leave our children -- the government will have taken it all in taxes, leaving our children and grandchildren with nothing but debt and memories of prosperity. Courtesy of Captains Quarters:

However, federal spending has kept the pace of the expansion in revenues. Last year's budget came in at $2.472T, and this year we expect to spend $2.77T, according to estimates released this week. Of that money, $969B comes in so-called discretionary spending, up $300B since 2001. But by far and away the worst of the bill comes in entitlement spending, which went to $1.32T last year, up from $1.009 in 2001. As a measure of the rate of increase in both areas, discretionary spending has increased 93% since 1990, but entitlements have gone up 132%, while revenues have increased by 109%.

Where has the increase come? Some of it has gone to national defense, but not all of it. In fact, the federal budget has grown across the board since 2001, outstripping inflation (12% overall) in several categories, such as Education (137%), Community and Regional Development (342%), Medicare (58%), Housing and Commerce (58%), Medicaid (49%), and Water Transportation (46%). Do you like the idea of nationalized health care? We may be heading there by default, as the federal budget for Health Research and Regulation has grown by 78% since 2001 and now consumes $76B of our budget.