Then the little piggy taxed you highly,
Then the little piggy rewarded his contributors,
Which left the little taxpayer with none,
And then the little piggy cried,
Ha, ha, ha.
All the way back to Congress.
Its that time again. The taxpayer watchdog Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has just released the 2007 edition of the Pig Book. Full of sordid stories detailing numerous rip-offs that would merit jail time for anyone but a congressman, the Pig Book outlines excesses in pork spending.
Unfortunately, weve come to expect so little in the way of responsible action from the politicians that we quietly excuse their excesses and their appalling recklessness with public funds. Though many express concern that Social Security is in danger, though the cost of the Iraq war is unquestioningly piling up, and though we may be looking at government-sponsored health care, our elected officials are still spending like drunken sailors on their not-so-little pet please re-elect me projects.
Fleeced for the cost of 2,658 projects ($13.2 billion worth) this is the first in seven consecutive years to reveal an actual decrease in pork spending over the preceding year. The only reason for this progress, however, is the fact that Congress enacted only two of eleven appropriations bills. The remaining nine bills were subject to a moratorium on earmarks, so taxpayers can at least be thankful this years pork is not billions more. As CAGW points out, this is to the credit of:
Senators Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who prevented the enactment of nine appropriations bills in December 2006, and the subsequent moratorium on earmarks announced and enforced by the House and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairmen David Obey (D-Wis.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) in H. J. Res. 20, the bill that funds the government for the remainder of fiscal 2007.
The joy at this step in the right direction is nevertheless muted. Any recognition of progress necessarily reveals just how far off course our leaders have taken us for a ride. Further, the special set of circumstances that produced this result (the change of power in both houses of Congress) will not be present the next time around. To get back to the point we should never have left in the first place will be a long, hard road and this temporary progress is no indication that we are genuinely headed down that path.
What were these 2,658 goodies that made there way into the 2 appropriations bills? What did that bloated behemoth on Capitol Hill spend $13.2 billion on at the expense of taxpayers in one state to benefit a special interest group or constituency in another? Here are some of the worst examples:
* The Gallo Clinic and Research Center at the University of California in San Francisco received $5,500,000. This center studies neuroscience and the effects of alcohol and drug abuse on the brain. No mention of defense-related research here. Further, and sadly, is there anybody out there who does not already know the effects of alcohol and drug abuse on the brain? They are bad: dont drink to excess and dont use illegal drugs!
* Scientific Solutions of Nashua, N.H. will receive $1,800,000 million to fund an Integrated Marine Mammal Monitoring and Protection system. A total of $5,300,000 overall was set aside to study marine mammals, such as whales, a portion of which will fund a marine mammal hearing and echolocation research program. The Navy itself spends roughly $10 million per year on research to understand how marine mammals hear and how they are affected by sound. Im all for expanding the scientific frontier but funding for such research should come from private institutions. Government has no business doing so. This particular bit of pork inspires me, however, to conduct my own research. I want to find out how the congressional mammal hears and if the sound of outraged taxpayers has any effect on them.
* Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) added $1,650,000 to address the monumental crisis the American military faces today: the all-too-short shelf life of vegetables. According to one of her 2006 press releases, the project will help our troops in the field get fresh tomatoes and establish and evaluate variant populations of bell pepper, cantaloupe and strawberry. Pork recipients Arcadia Biosciences of Seattle may or may not extend the shelf-life of vegetables, but so what? Murrays real concern here is extending the shelf-life of her political career.
* Why be personally responsible when you can blow $5,000,000 and make the taxpayers responsible instead? This particular bit of pork will purchase alcohol breath testers which are supposed to help reduce the impact to and by servicemen who drive under the influence. These personal breathalyzers are disposable and are about the size of a cigarette. Fifteen minutes after the last drink one can use the devise to determine if they should drive or not. That truly sounds like an utterly brilliant idea and if you like to drink then you, and not the taxpayers, ought to buy a supply of these breathalyzers. Make no mistake: the entire nation should support our troops. But that support does not extend to assuming accountability for a behavior that, by its very nature, demands personal responsibility.
* Mega porker Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is developing a reputation as a man who likes to go nowhere while lavishly spending other peoples money to get there. He increased the previous years pork to his state by 127% up to $209,900,000. One worthy recipient of a portion of this pork includes $4 million for the Northern Line Extension. This extension will provide a direct railroad route from North Pole, AK to Delta Junction, AK. Ignoring for the moment the fact that these two towns lay not even 100 miles apart and have a combined population of less than 3,000 people, one wonders why, if it is economically practical, they dont pay for their own rail extension. But thats the benefit of having access to other peoples money; neither economic nor common sense is required. Guess thats why you could call this, with apologies to Delta Junction and North Pole, Stevens Railway to Nowhere.
With so much pork spread around the American people ought to have a cookout; and November of 2008 sounds like a perfect time to barbecue all the little piggies.
Jeff OBryant is an amateur historian and holds two degrees, a bachelors in education and a bachelors with honors in history. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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