-Times Leader 1/24/2008
Recently, our local congressman, Chris Carney, was featured on the front page of USA Today. Why did he win such attention? Evidently, Carney received more spending earmarks than any other first year member of congress. He was proud of this dubious “achievement.” The taxpayers of northeast Pennsylvania shouldn’t be.
Here’s how the pork spending game works in Washington . Each congressman asks the Democratic leadership for “earmarked” money for projects back in their home district. Incumbents like Carney who expect tough reelection races get the most earmarks. Then each congressman can try to impress voters by bragging about the funding they “brought home.” Sounds good so far, but there’s a catch – and it’s a really big one.
In order to get that very modest level of funding for local projects, Carney had to vote in favor of projects everywhere else. Here’s a small sample of things Carney voted to waste our tax dollars on this year: rodent control in Alaska ; olive fruit fly research in France ; a bike trail in Minnesota ; a zoo in Illinois ; a post office museum in Las Vegas . Altogether there were some 9,000 earmarks in this year’s spending bills, and we ended up spending $28 billion more than in the President’s budget. While this pork spending game makes for nice press releases from Congressman Carney’s office, it’s a terrible rip-off for taxpayers.
In addition to spending Pennsylvania tax dollars on wasteful and unnecessary projects like the Mule and Packers Museum in California , Chris Carney’s approach to Washington deal making illustrates other fundamental problems with our nation’s finances. When there are 9,000 pork projects in the budget, and almost every congressman has a tiny piece of the action, the system creates all the wrong incentives. It’s set-up in a way that encourages accounting gimmicks, budget secrecy, and misallocation of resources. In short, it places special interests over the national interest, and it’s placing our children and grandchildren further into debt.
Unfortunately, the pork spending game is a bipartisan affair. When Republicans were in charge of Congress, they had a disgraceful record of funding things like the infamous Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska – a $200 million project that served a town of just fifty people. Several corruption scandals were linked directly to the earmarking process, and there are former congressmen who are now serving time in prison because of it.
In 2006, many Democrats, including Chris Carney, were elected based on promises to change the way Washington operated, and in particular to change the corrupt earmarking process. When Speaker Nancy Pelosi rams a massively bloated spending bill through the House with 9,000 earmarks in it, it’s obvious that nothing has changed.
Not all earmarks are wasteful, and not every project is tinged with corruption. But how can you tell which ones are which? For example, liberal Congressman Charlie Rangel from Harlem , the powerful Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has a $2 million earmark this year that names a building in honor of himself. That’s right – apparently once you’ve been in Washington long enough it no longer strikes you as arrogant to use tax dollars to name a building after yourself. Outrageously, Chris Carney voted in favor of this pork. What’s our congressman doing spending $2 million in tax dollars on the Charlie Rangel Building in Harlem ? Perhaps Carney thinks that’s a good use of Pennsylvania tax dollars. Perhaps it was a trade-off in exchange for Rangel’s support for Carney’s projects. Or maybe the fact that Rangel’s political committees gave $16,000 to Carney’s election campaign has something to do with it. To be clear, I’m not accusing Carney of corruption. I am saying that after only one year in Washington , Carney has become fully immersed in a system that corruptly and wastefully spends our tax dollars.
It is critical to America ’s financial future that we get off Washington ’s wasteful spending track. The best thing to do is replace pork-spenders like Carney with fiscal conservatives in Congress. But short of that, there’s another thing taxpayers should insist upon. Most pork projects simply don’t pass the smell test. No congressman wants to be clearly on record voting for fruit fly research in France instead of funding for our troops or veterans. Part of Washington’s pork spending game is that the politicians roll together all the pork in one giant bill and tell freshman like Carney that he has to vote for the whole thing in order to get his local projects. If, instead, we switched to a merit-based system, and every pork project was voted on individually, most of them wouldn’t pass. If Chris Carney could achieve that one simple reform of the process, then he would not only deserve to be on the cover of USA Today, he would also deserve the taxpayers’ thanks
-- Chris Hackett is a Republican candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania ’s 10th District