A Catfish That Oinks...and other tales of how Congress wastes money on pork-barrel projects
By Hays Gorey/Washington
(TIME, April 22, 1991) -- As always, there were howls of outrage in Congress last week when the Pentagon unveiled the list of military bases it wants to phase out or scale down in order to save $850 million. Angry lawmakers protested that the closings would cause irreparable economic harm to their districts and vowed to thwart them. But since none of the bases is considered essential to national defense, they fall into the category of pork: dubious spending programs that Congressmen support to curry favor with the folks back home.
Not all pork, however, comes wrapped in a khaki uniform. The federal budget is larded with highly questionable nonmilitary projects that receive lavish funding while more urgent national needs like fighting infant mortality and improving education are strapped for cash. None of the individual programs is large enough to worsen the $318 billion deficit significantly. But lumped together, the plethora of porcine projects adds huge sums to federal outlays. Freshman Republican Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire has been combing the budget for examples of nondefense pork, specifically projects that were never voted or debated but somehow were slipped into appropriations bills. Among the squealers he has unearthed:
The Subway Steal
Why the sparkling underground railway that ferries Senators back and forth between their offices and the Capitol should be converted into a nonstop people mover remains a mystery. Built in 1912, the subway was completely refurbished in 1958; the current plan is to create a "loop" of cars that run slowly but continuously so people can step on and off. But the old system is in no evident need of repair. Perhaps that is why no Senator will admit sponsoring this expenditure, which was added to the appropriation bill of the Senate Appropriations Committee's legislative-branch subcommittee at a session during which no recorded vote of the members was taken.
Feeding the Fish
The Bicycle Bonanza
Sabo wants to know why more people don't ride bicycles to work. The appropriation he sponsored will fund a Department of Transportation study of the nonridership problem. That investigation might discover that traffic lanes specifically designated for bicycles, more courtesy from motorists, an increased number of theftproof places to park bicycles, and promotional campaigns pointing out the environmental and health benefits could encourage the use of two-wheelers. Sabo doesn't ride a bicycle. But his two daughters, who do, probably could tell him as much as a high-priced DOT study.
The Tree Caper
Planting trees is a good idea, since they not only are beautiful but also can help ward off global warming by draining carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But why should the Federal Government spend $15 million (plus $30 million annually over the next three years) to plant 50,000 trees on land owned by local governments, an expense that seems more appropriate for state and local governments? That question baffles Neal Smith. "Are you for tree planting or not?" he asks, with some exasperation. "This project is in everyone's interest. Grants go to all the states, not just Iowa. It's a conservation and beautification program that is very much worthwhile. I always thought 'pork' was what went to somebody else's district."
The money is for a new building to replace the 50-year-old Quonset hut in which the Parliament of the Solomon Islands has been meeting. Solarz says the building will give "tangible support for democracy in that part of the world." A noble purpose, but why was the appropriation tucked into a spending bill titled "Procurement for the United States Navy"? Solarz's explanation: he considers the new building to be a monument to the American G.I.s who perished in the World War II battle of Guadalcanal.
Polishing the Apple
As a veteran member of the Appropriations and Agriculture committees, Traxler has a reputation for bringing home the bacon. A case in point: this appropriation, which will fund research on methods of cutting losses in the handling and shipping of apples, thus benefiting consumers to whom such losses are passed along. Though no apples are grown in Traxler's district, Michigan's apple crop ranks third among the states and earns about $75 million annually. Says Traxler: "I'm proud of the program."
Though Ohio has many memorials to William McKinley, Regula says the purchase of the 25th President's wife's parents' home is justified because the house McKinley was born in has been destroyed. After all, he did reside there for a few years, and maintaining it will not cost the government a penny because the house will be turned over to private groups that will finish restoring it. Regula says it is merely a coincidence that he graduated from a law school named after -- you guessed it -- William McKinley.
The Gym Grab
Copyright © 1997 AllPolitics All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this information is provided to you.