So, earmarks-- pork, varkensvlees, cerdo, schweinefleisch.
'Tis lovely in any language. You know, I think if we started calling it schweinefleisch, it might have many fewer fans in Congress because a) they'd have to say it on the floor over and over and b) taxpayers would say, 'You're spending my money on schweinefleisch? I have no idea what that is, but it sounds disgusting. Cut it out immediately.'" Ahh, the Germans.
Yes, I am talking about schweinefleisch again. Why?
It occurs to me that y'all might now know why I rant about this on a pretty regular basis. So, to stave off any oscitancy I might have provoked with my frequent swine-blogging, I thought I'd tell you why I write about it a lot.
It is not merely an affinity for the cantankerous Dr. Coburn. No, my hatred of pork and big government began about the time the good doctor came to Congress the first time.
Nor am I driven, as many of my liberal friends seem convinced, to blithely strip the poor of this nation of social programs and benefits they desperately need just because I'm, you know, mean.
I am all sincerity when I say that my love for limited government is born of compassion. I went to inner-city public schools. As a result, I had a lot of experience with the ins and outs of social programs from an early age. I saw what they did to weaken the family structure--particularly the black family-- which in turn hurt my fellow students' chances of succeeding in school. I saw how the class warfare rhetoric of those who supported such programs was a contributing factor to the sad state of race relations in my city.
I recognized that a public housing program that gave away plaques and held ceremonies for people who had lived in the projects the longest might not be the best way to encourage citizens to take charge of their lives. And, I eventually realized that it was not wrong to wish more for people than a government handout when our country has so much more to offer. Because, from what I saw, the programs that sought to help many of the people I grew up with were the very things that hurt them most of all.
I really, honestly, truly believe that every American citizen and the light of the American spirit has a better chance of surviving and thriving outside the giant, clumsy snuffer the federal government likes to call "assistance."
Yes, people need help sometimes. They need a safety net, but I just think the federal government is very good at saying its helping and not so good at actually helping.
So, why is it so bad at it? I think it's because the federal government is so daggone big! Seriously, no one knows what's going on up here. It's so big that no one even bothers checking to see whether programs are working or not.
Some are pushing an idea-- that Bush, to his credit, has backed in the past-- to form a sunset commission, which would evaluate federal programs, identify the failing and the redundant, and then ask Congress to vote up-or-down on whether those programs should continue to exist. Many folks outside the Beltway would think we probably already do this. It's common sense, right?
Nah! Not in D.C., y'all. As of last year, these were some of the redundancies in the federal government, according to The Heritage Foundation:
342 economic development programs 130 programs serving the disabled 130 programs serving at-risk youth 90 early childhood development programs 75 programs funding international education, cultural, and training exchange activities 72 federal programs dedicated to assuring safe water 50 homeless assistance programs
You think maybe, just maybe, there's something we could cut in there? You think just one or two of those programs might disappear and we wouldn't notice the difference? And, wouldn't improving the efficiency of those programs be good, not only for current and future taxpayers, but for the people the programs serve?
Not evaluating these programs is saying aloud, "I have no interest in serving either the people who pay for these programs or the people who benefit form them any better than I am right this very minute. I'm doing everything just fine and absolutely no improvements can be made."
In fact, read that whole Heritage paper to get an idea of what we're dealing with. There's $25 billion that just went missing last year. It wasn't embezzled or misused or wasted or spent on something lame-- it just up and walked outta the Treasury and nobody caught it, despite the horrid traffic on 14th St., which it would have been stuck in for at least an hour.
In the U.S. Treasury report, this money is referred to as "Unreconciled Transactions Affecting the Change in Net Position." Isn't that great? That's your money, folks. It's, um, unreconciled. That's what I should have told my parents when I "unreconciled" my clarinet that time in junior high. You think they would have gone for it?
Now, imagine if we actually found all the redundancies and billions in "unreconciled" taxpayer money. Imagine if there was just one sleek, federal economic development program that worked in conjunction with a bunch of private and state economic development programs all over the nation. Don't you think it might be easier for people to develop when they're not dealing with the bureacracy of 130 programs and all the bureacrats that come with them?
Imagine that was the case with all the federal government's many projects. Don't you think if it had its hands in fewer things, it would do a better job at the things it does do?
Maybe those programs would actually help people. At the very least, we could hope they would stop hurting their funders and beneficiaries.
The federal government should be smaller. The Founders meant it to be smaller. If it is smaller, it will work better to serve us. If it is smaller, it will be less capable of hurting us. To me, it is axiomatic.
So, what does any of this have to do with earmarks? They're a very small part of the budget, people tell me. Yes, that's true. But they're a very important part of the budget.
They are the part of the budget that bacon-greases the skids for all the duplicative and unjustified spending that makes it harder for the gargantuan government to serve us in the way it should.
As Coburn says, "earmarks are the gateway drug to overspending."
If a senator votes for a $700 million Railroad to Nowhere, he hasn't only wasted that money. He has opened the door to wasting much more money the next time he has a pet project or program he wants funded without having to justify it, and he calls in a favor. And, whoever votes for that project gets some porcine promises of his own on another bill. And, around and around we go.
The silliest thing about all of this is how up-in-arms Congress gets when it's suggested by someone like Coburn that they should actually have to defend their pork spending. Lott and Cochran were visibly ticked last week that they were being subjected to the indignity of actually explaining why the people of America should pay $700 million to move a perfectly functional railroad in their home state.
That's your money, folks. And they're insulted that they even have to discuss why they're spending it. Oh, and they're Republicans.
Of course, things are looking up a bit. There are the Porkbusters, and the fact that earmark reform was No. 1 in a recent WSJ poll of Americans' top priorities in '06. And, now there's a 25-member Constitutional Caucus in the House that wants to work on returning the federal government to the duties the Constitution intended. From a press release:
It is just kicking off now and is a reforming and refreshing idea in Congress-its purpose is to serve as an effective forum to ensure that the Federal government is operating under the intent of the Tenth Amendment of our Bill of Rights. The Tenth Amendment, of course, sets for the principle that the Federal government may exercise the specific powers that are listed in the Constitution, leaving all remaining powers solely to the States and the people themselves.
As Coburn said today in the Heritage event, "All you have to do is read the Constitution,. It tells you what to do, but we have a tendency not to do that because it doesnâ€™t serve the right political expediency."
But he also said, "The great thing about our country is that the American people can still change it."
Change away. It's your money, folks. We can use it to do much better than we're doing now.