Seriously

01.14.13

Bring Back Pork Barrel Spending

Video screenshot

Erik Patashnik defends pork barrel spending as necessarily for helping Congress operate. (And the above video, while probably NSFW, perfectly describes what such spending can do for our most dysfunctional and unpopular national institution.)

Many people complain about pork barrel spending, but pork adapts national programs to local conditions, and provides the grease that lubricates deal-making. Efforts to eliminate pork can actually make Congress less effective as a policy-making institution. In a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article, political scientist Sean Kelly, coauthor of Cheese Factories on the Moon: Why Earmarks Are Good for American Democracy, is reported to have found that Congress’s recent ban on earmarking has reduced the incentive of pragmatic members to serve on the appropriations committees since there are fewer goodies to hand out. Just last month, Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) declined an opportunity to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee. News reports speculated that Leahy’s decision may have reflected new restrictions on the Committee’s ability to approve “special projects requested by lawmakers.”

Some insist that we can’t afford pork at a time when Congress is struggling to reduce the budget deficit. But pet projects are cheap, and if doled out strategically, they provide an efficient way for presidents and congressional leaders to build coalitions for broad-based national legislation, as Trinity College political scientist Diana Evans shows in her fine book Greasing the Wheels.