Friday, May 05, 2006

Alone Against the Pork Fest

Imagine being a Muslim at a luau or a Georgian barbecue — nothing but ham as far as the eye can see. What do you do? Everything you can to cut the pork, if you ask Senator Tom Coburn:
The Republican senator from Oklahoma has spent the past week trying to remove pet-project "earmarks" that his colleagues have added to an emergency spending bill -- and the earmarks are winning, big time.

Yesterday morning, he was out on the Senate floor demanding to know why the emergency legislation -- for Iraq, Afghanistan and Gulf Coast hurricane recovery -- includes millions of dollars for Hawaiian sugar growers.

He stepped out for a break on a Senate balcony and pointed to the work on the Capitol Visitor Center, which may get another $27 million in emergency spending. "That's another one!" he fumed.

After lunch, he returned to the Senate floor to try to kill earmarks for a defense contractor, a study of shrimp and reef fishery profitability, aircraft that weren't requested by the Pentagon and other items in the groaning, $106.5 billion spending package.
Other pork items on the menu for this emergency spending bill:
  • post-hurricane rebuilding of a Northrop Grumman facility in Mississippi (even though the repairs would otherwise be covered under the corporation's insurance policy)
  • $176,000,000 for a retirement facility in Mississippi
  • $11,000,000 for riverbank erosion control on California's Sacramento River
  • a driver's license facility in Georgia
  • a profitability study for the shrimping industry
  • compensation for losses due to a red tide outbreak in New England
The earmark-engorged Senate spending bill is $14 billion more than the White House requested and the House passed. So far, Coburn has succeeded in cutting just $15 million of the $2.6 billion he has tried eliminating.

Senators scratch each others' backs: You vote for my earmark, I'll vote for yours.

But the iconoclastic Coburn knows the value of symbolism. (He went through the Capitol metal detector yesterday like an ordinary citizen even though he doesn't have to.) With his 19 amendments to the spending bill, Coburn is trying to embarrass senators so that they think twice before trying audacious earmarks in the future.
Unfortunately, the congressional back-scratching won out. All but one of Coburn's amendments were soundly defeated, and the pork barrel spending bore on. Or boar on, as the case may be.

So much for political conservatism in the Republican-led assembly.

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