Paul Jacob
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Which came first, the Chicken or the Egg?

It’s a funny question, since the subject at hand is pork. I ask it because House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) brought it up. You see, Hoyer is supporting pork-barrel spending in the forms of earmarks totaling $96 million, including a $438,000 grant to the California-based InTune Foundation Group, to provide music education.

Or something.

InTune officials say they aren’t sure what they are going to do with the money. The group’s director offered that, “It might be music camps. It might be lessons. It might be how to be a DJ. It might be how to create a television show.”

The future of our republic no doubt hangs on InTune’s decision.

Just two years ago, InTune received $500,000 from the federal government. But the group failed to report what they did with the money. In fact, the Department of Education says they’ve tried but can’t even reach the group, whose telephone and email address were no longer working.

Thank goodness for American governance — Hoyer apparently has a good address to which the feds can mail yet another big check.

Obviously embarrassed by the disclosure that InTune was completely out of tune on any accountability for the money taxpayers had already been forced to fork over, Hoyer did tell The Washington Post, “If in fact they are not compliant with the requirements that the Department of Education has, they shouldn’t get the money.”

So, of course, a chastened Hoyer, upon diligent investigation, immediately dropped his earmark. No? He didn’t? Nope. Instead, this particularly profligate piece of political pork just passed!

The InTune grant was part of the omnibus spending bill. Other parts include over 10,000 additional, out-of-tune earmarks.

Now, I’m all for music education. Mainly because I can’t play a note. Or sing — at least, not on key. My side of the family has the art talent; my wife’s the musical ability. Today, I’m very proud that my three daughters can all play the piano (as evidenced by the fact that I’m wasting your time with this less-than-totally-relevant disclosure).

But is this program so critical as to require that money be taken from taxpayers — loot that might instead be spent on piano lessons for folks’ own kids?

“I thought it was a program that would be a positive program,” says Hoyer.

What a ringing endorsement, eh? It’ll be “positive.” In other words, not “negative.” (As the bumper sticker says, “Just say ‘No’ to Negativity!”)

Does every group doing anything “positive” deserve half a million in taxpayer dough?

Michael Blakeslee with the National Association for Music Education doesn’t think so. He contacted The Washington Post after a recent news story about this pork project to say: “My heavens! We have such a need in this field. The thought of a pile of money, where nobody can explicitly state what they’re going to do for kids, is disturbing.”

Of course, another reason for Hoyer’s generosity with our money might just be the more than $30,000 that Hoyer’s political action committee has received from folks connected to InTune. Yeah, there’s that.

But Hoyer was quick to inform the Post that this earmark was not at all a quid pro quo, even while acknowledging a link between the earmarks he champions and his contributors. “If you support something . . . either through legislative language or verbal support or appropriated dollars,” Hoyer explained, “what happens is the proponents of those objectives wind up saying they want to support you.”

Added Hoyer, “Sometimes it’s a question of which is the chicken and which is the egg.”

Yes, this is the scrambled logic of our Congress. Well, not our Congress — Hoyer’s Congress.

In fact, though Hoyer supported the watered-down earmark “reform” legislation passed earlier in this Congress, he has long supported what he calls “good pork.” A euphemism for his pork.

The argument is often made that congressmen know better than the federal bureaucracy what is needed in their district. Though this isn’t even necessarily true, it is beside the point for a number of important reasons.

First, the specific needs being discussed aren’t usually needs at all. They are wants. And most often, these wasteful wants serve very few taxpayers even in the recipient district.

Second, the needs or wants of any given district, state or locality ought to be funded as much as possible by those who live there. Not by people living everywhere else. The standards by which spending decisions are made when using other people’s money are never likely to be as high as when people are spending their own dough. (If you disagree, just send me all your money. I’ll spend it with the utmost care.)

Last, but not least, the ability for individual congressmen to personally earmark federal spending is an invitation to bribery and corruption. Earmarks allow members of Congress to use the federal treasury as their individual slush fund, dangling the largess of the federal leviathan to special interests for campaigns contributions.

That earmarks are becoming more transparent is surely good. But earmarks are inherently wasteful and corrupting. And corruption remains corruption even when done in broad daylight.

Which is why the best Christmas present would be a complete ban on earmarks. Congressfolk can surely find better things to do than don fake beards and red suits to hand out goodies to . . . themselves.

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Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.