Tag Archives: pork barrel spending

When did earmarks become fashionable?

“Earmarks” used to be a four-letter word.

Republican members of Congress rose against them. They were eliminated. Now they’re back, thanks in large part to the insistence of, um, Republican members of Congress.

Earmarks are those items that lawmakers tuck — or sneak — into budgets. Remember the “Bridge to Nowhere” that the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens inserted into a budget? The “bridge” money went for a structure that, well, went nowhere in Alaska.

Stevens was scorned for that little game of fiscal chicanery.

Now it appears that earmarks are being resurrected. I don’t get it.

Republicans who now control both congressional chambers — and the White House — have forgotten how they won voters’ hearts in the first place. They are supposed to be the “party of fiscal responsibility.”

Earmarks are meant to allow lawmakers to bring “pork barrel” money to their states and congressional districts. Many House members and senators have been pretty damn good at it. The late Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd fattened the budget with money he directed to West Virginia. And get this. Former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican, once bragged that he brought back so much “pork” to his home state that he was afraid of “coming down with trichinosis.”

I consider myself a deficit hawk, even though I also consider myself to be a left-leaning blogger. I don’t like earmarks any more than the next guy. They constitute government waste.

They’re coming back.

What happened to “draining the swamp,” eh? Mr. President? When are you going to pull the plug?

Where are all the tributes to Sen. Byrd?

We drove through a good bit of West Virginia and all along the way I kept looking for signs of a legendary U.S. senator’s penchant for pork-barrel legislation.

We saw barely a trace of it.

I refer to the late Robert Byrd, the king of pork barrel spending. You know, of course, that the term “pork barrel” defines money dumped into legislation that is meant to benefit a legislator’s district or state.

Byrd was the “best of the best” at funneling public money to his home state of West Virginia. I noted his pork-barrel proficiency in a previous blog post.

Robert Byrd, D-Pork Barrel

As we motored along Interstate I-64, I kept waiting to see evidence of this or that bridge or stretch of highway named after Sen. Byrd. I found a bridge with the Byrd name attached to it in Charleston — which also honors another famous native son, a guy named Gen. Chuck Yeager, the man of the “Right Stuff” and supersonic flight.

Oh, I’m sure there must be many myriad public buildings, parks, city streets and rural roads with Sen. Byrd’s name attached to them.

He wasn’t bashful about his lust for luring money to his home state. What the heck. Why should he care? His constituents kept sending back to Washington to do precisely what he did.

Term limits? I look at it this way: If West Virginians were dismayed at how Byrd represented them in Congress, they had the option of removing him from office. They call them “elections.”

Wishing for days of ‘pork barrel’ bickering

My late mother had a retort when I would say, “Mom, I’ve been thinking.”

“Oh, beginner’s luck?” she would ask … rhetorically.

I’ve had a rash of beginner’s luck lately. I’ve been thinking about the good ol’ days of politics in Washington, D.C., when we used to single out politicians who had this habit of being champions for “pork barrel spending projects,” or those projects that benefit a specific area.

These days, worries about pork barrel spending has given way to rank ideology, where one side calls the other side “evil.” Liberals think conservatives have evil intent; the feeling is quite mutual coming from the other side.

Frankly, I prefer the old days when politicians used to bitch at each other because of all the money they funneled to their states and/or their congressional districts.

The former Republican U.S. senator from Texas, the loquacious Phil Gramm, used to boast about all the “pork” he brought home. “I’ve carried so much pork back to Texas,” he would say, “I think I’m coming down with trichinosis.”

Gramm, though, was a piker compared to some of his Senate colleagues. The late Democrat from West Virginia, Robert Byrd, was known as the king of pork barrel spending. He would attach riders onto amendments to bills that had dough for this or that federal project. As a result, Byrd’s name is on more buildings and bridges in West Virginia than one can possibly imagine.

However, is pork barrel spending a bad thing?

Look at it this way: Politicians do what their constituents want them to do. That’s the nature of politics in a representative democracy, as near as I can tell. We elect pols to represent our interests. If it means carving out a few bucks for this project or that back home, well, then that’s what we send them off to do for us.

These days we hear from rigid ideologues in the U.S. Senate and House. Texas’ two senators — Republicans Ted Cruz and John Cornyn — offer prime examples. One won’t likely accuse Cruz especially of being loaded down with pork; he’s too busy promoting rigid conservative ideology to worry about rebuilding highways and bridges back home in Texas; Cornyn, too, has this leadership role among Republicans in which he seeks to elect more of them to the Senate.

The House features much the same sort of ideology. My congressman, Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, once criticized President Obama for considering air strikes against Syria; then he praised Donald J. Trump for doing that very thing. Thornberry isn’t the least bit interested in pork barrel spending, which seems to fit the desires of his constituents; if they insisted on him bringing home more money to the 13th Congressional District, my hunch is that he’d do their bidding.

Where am I going with this?

I guess I’m trying to suggest two things.

One, I long for a return to the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s maxim that “all politics is local.” Why not argue the merits of this or that spending program and whether our member of Congress — in the House or Senate — is doing what we want him or her to do on our behalf?

Two, let’s quit the purely ideological battles and demonization of each other just because they happen to be of a different stripe. From where I sit, I still consider good government to be a team sport where each team respects the other side.

Good old days of 'pork' are gone

Remember when members of Congress used to actually boast about all the money they channeled to their states or their congressional districts?

Shoot, you had to be able to talk committee chairmen into approving money for your pet project. There always was something to give back in return, of course. A favor for the chairman’s district, or some help raising money for the other guy’s re-election campaign often was the kind of quid pro quo offered and delivered.

Those days are gone. That’s generally a good thing. I’m not fond of what’s been called “pork-barrel spending.”

A long-time U.S. senator, Republican Thad Cochran of Mississippi, is in trouble now partly because he used to funnel a lot of dough back to the Magnolia State.


It used to be a good thing. No more, folks.

Nope. The guy who’s favored to beat him Tuesday in the GOP runoff in Mississippi is Chris McDaniel, a tea party golden boy who stands poised to knock off another one-time “titan of the Senate.”

It’s not that Cochran is my favorite senator. Far from it. He tilts too far to the right for my taste. McDaniel, though, tilts even farther to the right, which makes the probable outcome in Mississippi a downer as far as I’m concerned. I’m figuring McDaniel would be one of those who’ll proclaim “my way or the highway” on anything that comes from the other side of the aisle.

A question looms in this race for Mississippi Republicans: Is it really and truly a bad thing to spend public money when it pays for public projects that are developed in your very own state? According to the New York Times, the answer for many Mississippians is “yes.”

It didn’t used to be this way.

Oh, the times they certainly are a-changin’.