April 30, 2006
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: This Washington Post piece on pork says that the PorkBusters approach is wrong:
Congress often seems to have devolved into a policy-free zone, where pork not only greases the wheels of legislation, but is the very purpose of legislation. Last year’s energy bill, enacted the same day as the transportation bill, did not reduce high gas prices or U.S. dependence on foreign oil, but it did shower billions of dollars on well-connected energy firms.
As former GOP Senate aide Winslow T. Wheeler detailed in his legislate-and-tell book “The Wastrels of Defense,” Congress even turned its post-Sept. 11, 2001, military bills into receptacles for pork, including gyms, chapels, parking garages and museums. “What was once a predictable but part-time activity has become a full-time preoccupation that permeates Congress’s activities and decision-making processes,” Wheeler wrote.
Egregious earmarks are certainly a symptom of this phenomenon, such as the largesse that Cunningham stashed into military bills for a contractor who bribed him and the economically and environmentally dubious water projects that the Army Corps of Engineers was building in Louisiana when it should have been protecting New Orleans. That’s why some proposed earmark reform makes sense, especially rules that would identify their source, require votes on them and prevent them from slipping into huge bills at the last minute.
But it is hard to see how preventing individual members of Congress from proposing individual measures — even measures designed to benefit their constituents or contributors — would serve the cause of democracy.
I think the key here is transparency. If wide attention weren’t bad for pork-related efforts, Congress wouldn’t try so hard to hide them.