Sunday, February 04, 2007

Too Fat to Hide

Pork-barrel piggies are going to be going through what may seem like a difficult few months in our Legislation. The politicians have finally heard the public hew and cry, thanks to a few hard liners like Tom Coburn (R-OK) and organizations like the Club for Growth and Citizens Against Government Waste [CAGW].

pig_gets_stuck
[Thanks to besser-englisch-lernen.de for the image.]

I try to be non-partisan, but it is clear from the statistics that the Republican Party in general, and Senators John Kyl (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) and House Reps Rob Portman (R-OH) and Edward Royce (R-CA) in particular, are Winners and Runners-Up on the pork issue. (See the CAGW's Senate Scorecard and their House Scorecard.)

But don't begin to cheer just yet. Realists over at Cato like Stephen Slivinski tell us how this is really just a smoke screen on the part of the majority of our legislators. In his recent paper called "A Reality Check on Earmark Reform," we learn that:

"In a mostly party-line 280-152 vote last Friday, the House passed rules changes requiring that both the spending projects and their sponsors be disclosed on the internet at least 48 hours before they are considered on the floor. Congressmen will also be required to justify the public need for the expenditures, and certify that they won't benefit financially from them."

The article points out that anyone normally constituted would think that congressmen would be embarrassed to link their name to a pork barrel project. The reality, unfortunately, is the opposite. He says, "just as intellectual property protection for inventions presumably creates an incentive to innovate, earmark transparency might also lead to a rise in the number and cost of earmarks."

He goes on to say that even if it does scare some of the projects out of existence in the budget, they will just reappear in other handouts under a different name. Congress being the creative group that it is, they always manage to get what they want. It's the nature of the beast.

Here are some fun figures for you from CAGW's "The 2006 Pig Book Summary." We learn that "Congress porked out at record dollar levels with $29 billion in pork for 2006, or 6.2 percent more than last year’s total of $27.3 billion. In fact, the total cost of pork has increased by 29 percent since fiscal 2003. Total pork identified by CAGW since 1991 adds up to $241 billion."

Balloon-prickers may remark that out of our 2006 GDP of $13-1/4 trillion (source), that makes only 2 percent; but if you ask me, that's $241 billion too much. This amount could wipe out the federal budget deficit altogether, if you believe the figures recently published by the administration of a 2006 deficit of $248 billion. It could reduce our government debt (not the same as the deficit) by 3 percent (see the US National Debt Clock.)

Our balloon-prickers will respond that this is not true, that in reality it could only erase about 7 percent of the TRUE deficit, which includes the Social Security and Medicare debt that will explode over the next few years. To that, I retort that every little bit counts, never mind that pork elimination would tell our legislators that we're sick of all the corruption. Even if it won't do us any good, we're better off having expressed ourselves. (For two articles on the difference between these two versions of the federal budget deficit, read USA Today - What's the Real Federal Deficit? (re 2005) and World Net Daily - True Deficit $3.5 Trillion (re 2006).)

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