Saturday, July 09, 2005

Fuel for cynicism

In this post update, it was noted that the cover story ('The Great American Pork Barrel' by Ken Silverstein) for the July issue of Harper's Magazine was not available online.

After reading this review (Harper's wades into legislation's muddy waters) your cynicism may reach new heights and your desire to track down a copy of the article should be peaked.


They say if you have a weak stomach, you shouldn't watch sausage or legislation being made.

That warning also could be applied to Harper's excellent July cover story, "The Great American Pork Barrel: Washington Streamlines the Means of Corruption."

Cynics, lobbyists and folks who already know what "omnibus appropriations bills" and "earmarks" are will find nothing surprising in Ken Silverstein's grisly account of the accelerating avarice of our public servants. The overly young or idealistic, however, might be shocked to read how last year congressmen of both parties used murky legislative processes to raid the federal treasury and give billions in boondoggles to their pals and supporters back in their home districts.

Last year during in a two-day frenzy, Silverstein says, a small gang of senators and representatives turned a huge appropriation bill called the Foreign Operations bill into "the biggest single piece of pork-barrel legislation in American history."

They did it by hastily inserting 11,761 extra pages -- or "earmarks" -- into the bill that authorized $16 billion in spending that included such things as $100,000 for goat research in Texas, $569,000 for "Future Foods" development in Illinois and $175,000 for obesity research in Texas.

What's worse, these lawmakers did everything in private. No public records exist to reveal who sought or got the earmarks, and Silverstein says congressmen on the appropriations committees conveniently have a blanket rule against blabbing.

In 2004, Silverstein says, Congress attached a total of 15,584 separate earmarks worth $32.7 billion to various appropriations bills. Not all of that taxpayer money went for grants, like the $443,000 somebody in Alaska got to study the development of baby foods containing salmon. Some of it went to arguably more worthwhile things such as locks and dams and social programs.

But Silverstein's piece, which explains how both parties crudely use their targeted boondoggles to help their incumbents stay in office, doesn't exactly instill hope in the future of restrained government spending...


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