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H.R. 4818: A lesson in ‘bringing home the bacon’

Tom Rippinger | Tuesday, November 30, 2004

I take my assertion of last week back that there is nothing left to rant about in the realm of politics. While it is true the behavior of grown men that act like children is an easy target, by no means is it limited to the NBA. Specifically, our government has sunk to record lows in its quest to squander the hard earned tax dollars of the American people. By no means do I limit my criticism to the traditional Great Society Democrat pork-barrel spender, but the new breed of Republican pork-barrel spender as well.

Contrary to promises made in 1994 after forty years of Democratic control in Congress, Republicans have gone back on the original promises that regained them the House and Senate. Discretionary spending over the past few years has gone through the roof. In 2003, inflation adjusted federal spending topped $20,000 per household for the first time since WWII.

Overall for 2003, the federal government spent $20,300 per household, taxed $16,780 per household, and ran a budget deficit of $3,520 per household. Spending outside of defense and Sept. 11-related expenses is increasing 5 percent annually. From 2001 through 2004, discretionary outlays are projected to have leaped 39 percent, from $649 billion to $900 billion. Excluding defense and Sept. 11-related costs, discretionary spending increased 16 percent from 2001 through 2003, according to research from The Heritage Foundation.

Of course, it is reasonable to expect a tight budget with increased spending for Iraq and Homeland Security. However, discretionary spending increases of 16 percent are utterly inexcusable. Looking further into the research done by Heritage’s budgetary expert Brian Riedl, I came across an extremely interesting list of what exactly your federal tax dollars are paying for.

I hope all of you like baseball and rock ‘n’ roll, because almost a million dollars was earmarked in this past spending bill toward both of those Hall of Fames. One and a half million dollars will be used to transport naturally chilled water from Lake Ontario to Lake Onondaga. I also hope you all like grapes as much as I do, because $3 million is going to a Center for Grape Genetics in Geneva, New York. As well, $950,000 will go to the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, $2,000,000 will be given for kitchen relocation in Fairbanks, Alaska, and $150,000 will fund therapeutic horseback riding in California. Across many states, $6,285,000 will also go to “wood utilization research.”

The list goes on for municipal swimming pools, parks, etc. in red and blue states. Contrary to Democratic assertions, none of these problems have to do with lower taxes or defense spending. They have everything to do with the business as usual politics of Washington. It is a time tested rule of self-interest and common sense that “those who bring home the bacon” to his/her respective district in the form of pet projects will ultimately have much better chances for reelection. Average Joes like to have scenic boardwalks, therapeutic horseback riding programs and beautifully renovated museums.

Politicians from the local level upwards know this fact. Originally, the system of federal grants was set up to award federal money to the most competitive programs in the country. The intention was to give struggling but effective programs some supplement to get by. However, instead of working through the grant process, local projects have bypassed these traditional mechanisms by hiring lobbying firms.

In what has become a quite lucrative business, an ambitious lobbying firm can bypass the entire process by directly lobbying for an earmark in the next spending bill. As stated in The Heritage Foundation WebMemo #613, “Predictably, an entire lobbying industry has emerged to secure pork projects for those willing to pay for their services. Organizations and local governments seeking federal money can choose between dozens of powerful lobbying firms who can effectively trade campaign contributions for earmarks.”

This of course, leads to increases in demands by more qualified recipients. It also leads to a deadly cycle of jealousy as incentives deteriorate to utilize the appropriate channels.

The policy prescriptions needed to fix these problems are not of the mixed message nature proposed by Democrats, or the “please everyone” nature of Republican proposals. What is needed is national public outcry against frivolous government waste in Washington. Being a Republican, I feel there is something wrong when the Democrats can run on a platform of fiscal responsibility. As bitterly divided as the election was, the American people have given Republicans a genuine opportunity to accomplish the conservative vision of limited-government. Hopefully the next few years will be different, and they will begin to put prudent conservative policy before pork barrel waste.

Tom Rippinger is a senior political science major. He supports President Bush and is the co-President of the Notre Dame College Republicans. He can be contacted at trippin1@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.