Congress brings home the bacon

Posted: Aug 27, 2007 12:01 AM

WASHINGTON -- If anyone wonders why this Congress gets a failing 18 percent job-approval rating from the American people, the lowest score on record, take a look at its waste-ridden spending bills.

To be sure, the last Republican-run Congress had a sorry record on spending, pushing earmarked, pork-barrel spending totals to shamefully new heights, but the Democrats' record this year is no better.

Over the past seven months, the Democratic Congress has added $6 billion in higher spending to the fiscal 2007 omnibus appropriations bill; approved a budget for fiscal 2008 that will add another $20 billion to the president's budget requests; inserted $17 billion more, much of it pork, to his supplemental request for the troops; and then approved proposals for a blockbuster $392.5 billion in additional taxes on middle-class families.

Democrats took control of the House and Senate this year promising to exert some needed discipline on the federal budget. But they also had a long list of spending proposals, including nine new entitlement programs that passed the House in July, that will balloon spending in future years, plunging the government deeper into debt.

And if you thought Democrats were going to put the brakes on the kind of politically self-serving pork that has corrupted Congress, think again. What should be declared illegal and banned altogether is flourishing -- lining the pockets of well-paid lobbyists who prowl the corridors of Capitol Hill with lengthy lists of funds they want delivered to their well-heeled, fat-cat clients back home.

And the people stuffing these spending requests into the appropriations bills are from both sides of the aisle.

Consider these egregious spending items gleaned from the fiscal 2008 House Transportation Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies (THUD) Act, which called for a $78.2 million smorgasbord of pork spread over 480 projects: -- $150,000 for the Troy (Mich.) Chamber of Commerce to buy a solar greenhouse from Lawrence Tech University.

-- $100,000 to expand and renovate the Lincoln Museum in Hodgenville, Ky.

-- $100,000 to make landscape and sign improvements in the Los Angeles (Calif.) Fashion District.

-- $250,000 to help build the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser, Wash.

-- $250,000 for infrastructure renovations and awnings in the historic market in Roanoke, Va.

-- $150,000 to renovate the Renaissance Art Center's historic theater in Rupert, Idaho.

-- $200,000 to replace sidewalks and install street furniture, among other facade improvements, in Tamuning, Guam.

-- $330,000 for construction of the Rainsville agriculture center in Alabama.

-- $100,000 in building improvements at the South Airport Industrial Park in Toledo, Ohio.

-- $100,000 to develop and create "interactive, education and historical exhibits" at the Hunting & Fishing Museum of Pennsylvania in Tionesta.

-- $50,000 to build a National Mule and Packers Museum in Bishop, Calif.

If all this sounds like our lawmakers think they have money to burn, that is exactly what is happening here -- only it's with your hard-earned taxes.

Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonpartisan organization that zealously tracks and exposes such spending practices calls these and other line items in this spending bill "outrageous." They were inserted into funding for an obscure federal program called the Economic Development Initiative that is supposed to aid depressed economies with federal grants.

Numerous government studies and audits, however, have shown over the years that such spending has had little, if any, impact on improving poor economies or creating jobs. Indeed, money taken from other parts of the country to pay for these pork-barrel projects results in less growth in those areas and fewer new jobs overall.

While the vast majority of lawmakers are up to their armpits in pork and fight to get their provisions into these waste-ridden bills, there are still a few waste-fighters in Congress who are leading the fight to strip these projects out of each appropriations measure.

The leader of this group of fiscal warriors is Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who last year offered 19 amendments alone to kill billions of dollars in pork on the House floor.

One organization keeping track of how members of Congress vote on Flake's amendments is the Club for Growth, an aggressively pro-tax-cut group that advocates policies to promote economic growth.

It found that, in the past two years, only eight House members tallied a perfect 100 percent score. Apart from Flake, they are: Reps. Trent Franks and John Shadegg of Arizona, Mike Pence of Indiana, Scott Garrett of New Jersey, Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, all Republicans.

Sadly, the vast majority of lawmakers regularly vote to bring home the pork.

Even sadder, they are rewarded by their constituents at re-election time.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once famously said that if you want to find out who is to blame for the billions of dollars in wasteful pork spending that goes on year after year, "look in the mirror."

As long as Americans are willing to re-elect lawmakers who squander their tax dollars on needless parochial projects, the federal pork scandal will never end.