Getting Rid of the Pork

colson2 Will it really happen? Will Congress really get rid of all those perks they have enjoyed so long—like flying on lobbyists’ jets and letting companies pay for luxurious “fact-finding” tours to Bora Bora and elsewhere? The new Democratic leadership in the House and Senate has promised to curb earmarks and run the cleanest Congress ever. Some people say they will not keep their word. But as for me, I’m going to be giving them the benefit of the doubt—especially if they can get rid of earmarks once and for all. Lawmakers, you see, love to bloat up spending bills by inserting their own pet projects to benefit favored groups back home. And then they brag about those pet projects, like the infamous “bridge to nowhere,” in order to get re-elected. Not anymore. Voters, it seems, have caught on—and let lawmakers have it right in the ballot box. Look at the list of how many of the kings and queens of pork lost their seats last November over the earmarking issue. A senior seven-term California Republican, who bragged about bringing home the bacon, lost to a Democrat. A member of the House Appropriations Committee who hails from Kentucky was defeated despite bringing home—and bragging about—huge amounts of pork. A friend of mine, a senator from Montana, boasted of delivering $2 billion to a state with fewer than one million people—starting with $8 million to encourage private space travel. He lost, too. So did an Indiana congressman, who boasted that he increased Hoosier transportation spending by $220 million. These are all good people, conservatives who should have known better. But maybe we will learn a lesson here. Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake (R), who was re-elected by a handsome margin after refusing to earmark funds for his district, told the New York Times, “In the end, voters saw through it”—that is, efforts to buy their loyalty with pork. But will conservatives remember the lesson the next time around? Conservatives lost their majority because they betrayed their own central principles—principles that go back to our nation’s founding. To America’s founders, lawmaking was supposed to be about advancing the common good—not wheeling and dealing in order to hold on to power. They built into the Constitution checks and balances “to pit ambition against ambition and make it impossible for any elements of government to obtain unchecked power”—precisely what we see in earmarks. By contrast, liberals want power in order to advance their agenda; how they get that power is less important. I have to hand it to the new Congress: Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are off on the right foot in their plan to change ethics rules and to require a detailed public accounting of earmarks. I hope they will go further and eliminate them altogether. These represent a gross abuse of power and of their office. Banishing them would be one of the best things that could happen to this country. I don’t know Reid and Pelosi, but I like what they are saying. The Republicans who ran in 1994 and ran on exactly this platform failed to do it; in fact, they increased pork. I hope that this time the new leaders will get the message. If they do stand tough, if they keep their promises, I’ll be the first to say, “Well done!”  
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For Further Reading and Information
Timothy Egan, “Pork No Longer Paves the Road to Re-election,” New York Times, 25 December 2006. Fredreka Schouten, “Pelosi Elected First Female Speaker as Democrats Take Control of Congress,” USA Today, 4 January 2007. Noam N. Levey and Richard Simon, “Speaker-to-Be Is No Stranger to Earmarking,” Los Angeles Times, 13 November 2006. “Earmarks for Me but Pork for You?” Sandusky Register, 3 January 2007. “A Bridge Gone Too Far,” Anchorage Daily News, 2 January 2007. BreakPoint Commentary No. 060327, “Ethics? Who Needs Ethics?: Why We Need the Line-Item Veto.” BreakPoint Commentary No. 060501, “Empty Monuments to Human Ego: The Scandal of Congressional ‘Earmarking’.” BreakPoint Commentary No. 061005, “Trading Votes for Pork: The Ongoing Scandal of Earmarking.” BreakPoint Commentary No. 061109, “A Pounding at the Polls: Why Conservatives Lost.”


Chuck Colson


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