Thursday, August 11, 2005

Look Out – There’s a Pig on the Interstate!

     Oh wait, that's just highway pork. This should come as no surprise. The term "Pork Barrel" originated 150 years ago to refer to highway spending 200 years ago based more on politics than need. I'm not really against the nearly $300 billion highway bill. I recognize that it costs a lot of money to maintain 46,000 miles of interstate highway, plus 115,000 miles of US highways. I used to be extremely pro-highway. When I first moved to Atlanta, I was fascinated by how the interstate highways shaped this city, which grew around them like vines or weeds after they were built in the 1960's and 1970's. I hoped for more, like the ill-fated outer perimeter. Now I'm a little wiser, having lived here for some time and recognizing how sprawl has damaged Atlanta and how centralized cities, though hurt by White Flight in the 70's, are much healthier.
     Anyway, my point is I'm not against the highway bill per se. I'm a little disappointed, but not shocked, at the $24 billion in special projects allocated. What's interesting is how the Republicans' true colors are emerging. For years, the Right has pilloried the Democrats as "Tax and Spend". Vote Republican, they said, if you think government should be responsible with your money. I know $24 billion at the same time seems like a lot of money and is also one of those vague numbers thrown about. I mean, my mortgage is barely 4-digits - how can I comprehend financing at the national level?
     In 1998, Bill Clinton almost vetoed a $218 billion highway bill because it contained $7 billion of "special projects". Almost vetoed by a Democrat for being too wasteful! Today, "special projects" amount to almost 3 times as much! And while our Republican President says he wishes it were less, it sails through his office more smoothly than a used car salesman at an Alzheimers nursing home. And where is this money going? Ashamedly, some of the pork is going to Blue states. But I can understand that Democratic leaders aren't willing to impoverish their people on principle while paying for Red-Staters' pork. The most egregious offense? A $231 million bridge in Alaska which will be named, by law, the "Don Young Way". Don Young is the Republican House Transportation Committee Chairman. (In 1998, Republican Committee Chairman Bud Shuster wrote the Bud Shuster Byway or I-99 into law in his home state.) Now, call me crazy, but isn't the definition of corruption using public office to profit personally? I mean, I know Don Young isn't personally charging tolls on this bridge, but I'd call writing a law to name a bridge after yourself is pretty close. How much money would it cost me to do the same? What's the monetary value of getting a bridge named after you? At UCLA, it costs $10 million to get your name on a building. Keep in mind that it wasn't the grateful voters or even the state legislators that were so proud of Young that they named the bridge for him. Young named the quarter-billion dollar bridge for himself.
     It just goes to show that at the very least, Republicans like to spend money at least as much as or more than Democrats. All those years they spent telling voters that it was Dems who were going to steal their money, and all along the fox was already in the henhouse. I wonder what all those non-religious, fiscally conservative Republicans are thinking right now. I wonder what they think they've gained. Do they even exist anymore? Are there even Republicans who believe in a balanced budget anymore? $24 billion is a lot of money. Cutting that out of the budget would help Bush balance it better than cutting out the $1.2 billion that Amtrak gets. A lot more people ride Amtrak than will drive over the $223 million dollar bridge (another one, not the Don Young Way) in Alaska going to an island with 50 inhabitants. That works out to.... $4.46 million per person. They have an airport there - we could buy each person their own Cessna for less! (Actually, we could buy them each 22 high-end Cessna Skyplanes) Anyway, for the rest of us 279,999,950 Americans, just consider the "special projects" $85 well-spent. If you ever visit Alaska.


Ben said...

We fiscally conservative folks do exist, we aren't happy at bills like this, but we still feel the alternative would have been worse. And I imagine, if you got in to the nitty gritty, that there are at least as many ridiculous pork projects for Democrats as Republicans.

At any rate, I am upset about all this pork, and have already written my Senators and representative about it.

When it comes to pork, however, you have to look at the whole story. Do you realize the New Jersey has used it's homeland security dollars as pork money for pet projects under the guidance of their Democratic Senators and Representatives? There's a lot more pork out there than just this highway bill, and the ridiculousness runs on both sides of the aisle.

Scott said...

Your imagined nitty-gritty is just that - imaginary. The committee is run by Republicans. What justification do you use to say that "at least as many ridiculous pork projects" went to Dems? For a quick review of the English language, "at least" means equal to or more. You're saying that there is no chance there are more Republican pork projects?
But even if that were the case, it still doesn't stop the Repubs from standing out as liars and opportunists, who decry pork when they're not in charge and then eat it like they're a crack whore at a Chinese buffet.

(How am I with the similes today?)

Sylvana said...

Yuck. I think I'm going to be sick. That's just awful. I think every dollar spent on highways is another bonus for big oil too. When we have better roads to drive on and more of them, we drive more, using up more oil.

$223 million for 50 people? Make them buy their own damn bridge! I'm sure they could fund a ferry for far less.

Ben said...

Pork sucks, no matter who is behind it. At least was a bad choice of words. How about a significant portion of it goes to Dems, at least enough that you have to blame both sides for this one.

Shannon said...

Ben, you're actually like a number of fiscally conservative friends I know. I've tried speaking to them about issues such as these- instances where I see Republicans taxing and spending and porking (hee hee) etc etc- and I get a similar reply "the alternative is worse." What is this alternative? At times, such as this, I don't see much of a difference in the fiscal behavior of dems and repubss. Or are there other issues (social, foreign policy) which soften the often un-libertarian-like behavior of repubs?

On a side note, I've noticed a strong dislike of the Bush Administration and the war on libertarian websites, yet the libertarians I know personally supported Bush in the last election. Any libertarians out there? Anyone care to address this?

Jody said...

As a libertarian that voted for Bush, I viewed him as "ok" on economic issues (increased spending on medicare VERY bad, perceived plans to reform tax structure and social security VERY good) and the far superior choice on defense/foreign policy (I can go on for days how many bad bad foreign policy/defense things Kerry brought up as part of his campaign).

So, we (libertarians that voted for Bush) realize that Bush isn't perfect (and far from it on spending - if we had kept spending growing at Clinton rates we would currently be running a surplus even with the tax cuts) but he was better on more areas important to us (which varies by libertarian voter) than Kerry would've been.

Ben said...

The alternative, Shannon, would have been John Kerry. He would ahve raised taxes. He wouldn't have cut spending, but he probably would have come up with even more quasi-socialist programs like every democratic President since FDR has done (although I'll admit that Clinton wasn't too bad compared to most.... Jimmy Carter was probably the best example of thinking that the solution to every problem is to throw money at it, thus we ended up with like a 70%+ top tax rate, and the economy only got worse until Reagan came in and cut taxes... Suddenly revenues were up and the recession was dying).

EC said...

Scott, you've correctly identified an important problem with our central government but you missed the root cause and therefore the solution. If you want to give the government the power to tax income at 20% or 30% or higher and pay for our education, retirement, medicine and medical treatment, roads, and a cure for every disease on the planet (all through taxes and deficit spending, mind you), then there can be no other result. If the money is there, then it will be spent in some manner and not in the way that you or anyone but the people on the receiving end would like it. And with all of that money in the air, what type of people do you think it attracts to run for office!

You say you are angry becasue of Republican pork. My guess is you are not angry that the money was spent, but on what it was spent. I doubt you or most leftist would have had a problem if our government decided to use the money to start a new public television or radio station, an art or a Henry Wallace museum, or to purchase lands for conservation or to give to the homeless.

The solution to these problems and many others is not to keep hoping that better people will run for and get elected to public office. Besides, a tactful politician will always tell you what you want to hear. The solution is to strip away like paint all of the unnessecary powers that have amassed mostly over the three-quarter century and leave behind only what is essential to keep the government running.

So that this isn't just a rant, let me suggest a solution to the transportation problem. Privatize.

We spend our own money (or money lended from a bank with interest) to buy our cars. Ditto for the gasoline that fuels it. This is the only way everybody can get the car that they want at a price that they are willing to pay. We don't expect anybody else to buy a car for us, and we would never expect the government to buy it for us using a general car fund paid for by some tax or other (this would lead to further waste, pork, and everyone owning a lime green station wagon). It can and should be the same for roads.

Ben said...

Great screed, Howard. Although I have to disagree with your conclusion. The highway system is one of the very few things I think the federal government should run/fund. I don't know the answer to removing the pork, but certainly privatizing a bunch of stuff that is currently public (and shouldn't be) would help.

And my favorite part of your post.... The idea that if we don't give politicians so much money, they won't be able to spend so much. If there's a better reason for lowering taxes, I haven't heard it.

ORF said...

Howard, a lot of what you said was very well thought out and well put. I haven't noticed you on Scott's site before, so welcome!

I agree that at the heart of what people disagree with over spending bills is WHAT the money is spent on. I think what Scott is saying is that maintainence of our nation's highways is a valid expense, but rolling a lot of other relatively useless things in there that could be otherwise allocated to things that could benefit a larger section of the population is wasteful. In a lot of ways, you two agree very much, since you're saying that government should be stripped back to spending on the essentials. I suppose where you'd differ is what you considered essential. My two cents: education, education, education, and did I mention education?

However, I disagree with Ben's suggestion that giving politicians less money to spend means it necessarily follows that it will be better spent. Just because there is less money in the coffers doesn't mean it will be applied in a more responsible way. Just look at President Bush: he sent out a big tax rebate two years ago and simultaneously skyrocketed us into obscene deficit by spending boatloads of arguably mis-allocated funds to the Global War on Terror (yes, I DID get the White House memo to change the usage of that term, but refuse to adhere to it just yet). That's a fantastic example of pork-barrelling. We're spending a LOT of that money on private contractors instead of adequately outfitting our soldiers with protective body armor or post-traumatic stress treatment.

EC said...

If you please, I can be more specific about what Congressional powers I think are essential to run government. They are enumerated in Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. These powers are very specific and limited with little or no room for interpretation. Granted, they do have the power to establish post roads. I was merely proposing an idea which among its other advantages would eliminate pork.

And I should also mention that I use d 'essential' and 'necessary' as adjectives for the noun 'powers' in my last comment, whereas you changed it to the noun 'essentials'. The mistake wasn't purposeful, but nonetheless I hope you will acknowledge that they mean very different things.

If you think that government is responsible for essentials, then you should ask what are the essentials in life? Food, for one. Everybody needs food to live. Clearly, food is much more of an essential than roads, health care, education, or public television. Therefore, one might conclude from your comment, government should provide food. What about shoes? Who can get anywhere without them? Or shelter?

All of these items are essentials yet they can and are all provided by private citizens and not by government. And I would argue that private citizens are much better at providing the essentials than government would be. Afterall, would you want government to feed or clothe you?

I also want to highlight that I mentioned two reasons for runaway spending; income taxes and deficit spending. Even without income taxes, the government would still be able to spend money it doesn't have through deficit spending. How, you ask? Because the Federal Reserve can 'create' money out of nothing (this leads to the devaluation of the dollar). This being said, I still beleive it would be better to have no income tax and a Fed than to have both.