Last week, the Senate got its temperature taken, with a vote that very effectively checked the health of the putative "World's Greatest Deliberative Body". This was not a very invasive test, more like using an oral thermometer than having a colonoscopy. Never-the-less, the results were stark: The Senate is very sick.
The test was called the Coburn Amendment, and was a test to see how attached the Congress is to pork barrel spending. The reason that the test was fairly non-invasive was that it it sought to move the spending from only a few of the most egregious pork projects in the highway bill, and shift the money to infrastructure replacement in New Orleans, a use that garners substantial public support. The bill was voted down resoundingly, 86-13 (though both of our Arizona Senators voted for it, more credit to them).
This post from Mark Tapscott is a pretty good summary.
The charade [is] of endlessly mouthing the cliches of fiscal responsibility
while taking to record levels the shameful practice of log-rolling - "I'll vote
for your pet spending project no matter how bad it is if you vote for my pet
spending project, no matter how bad it is."
Members of Congress call it
"congressional courtesy." Weary taxpayers don't.
Closely related to
log-rolling is the congressional maxim that "to get along, you have to go
along," especially if you are a freshman or from a small state. Coburn is both a
freshman and from a state with only a handful of electoral
Senators and Representatives have been log-rolling since the First
Congress, of course, but never before with the intensity of the current GOP-led
Congress. Appropriations bills now routinely gain approval with hundreds or
thousands of "earmarks," which is Hill-talk for pork barrel projects inserted by
individual members to benefit their district or state.
Patty Murray, of Washington, freaked at the prospect of losing her poetry shelter or whatever it is they proposed cutting from the highway bill, and threatened Senator Coburn with excommunication from the go-along-Senators-club. Coburn's response to the legendarily dimwitted Murray is here.
Murray (recorded): You know, as the old saying goes, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, and I tell my colleagues, if we start funding for individual projects, your project may be next. And so, Mr. President, when members come down to the floor and
vote on this amendment, they need to know if they start stripping out this project, Senator Bond and I are likely to be taking a long, serious look at their projects, to determine whether they should be preserved during our upcoming conference negotiations.
Jed Babbin: Well, does that bother you, Senator? I mean, are you worried so much about Oklahoma projects?
Tom Coburn: No. I don't ask for any projects. I ran on a platform of saying the biggest problem we face in our country is financial and economic, and cultural in Washington, that if we don't change that, I promised you I will not earmark
a thing until the budget is in surplus.
TC: So I don't have any earmarks.
So I don't have any...you know, there's no power over me to withhold
earmarks, because I have none.
JB: Well, how tough is it going to be, though, to undo this culture of pork? I mean, the porksters are all around you. I mean, we're not naming names, but you're
outnumbered there pretty solidly, so...
TC: Look, when the American people want things to change, they will change. Just as like in 1994, they changed? It's this year's time. Make them change. You know, hold them accountable. There's Democrats and Republicans up here, but we're all Americans, and we ought to be thinking about the
heritage that has come before us, and the legacy that's going
to follow us. And the legacy that's going to follow us today is a millstone around the neck of our grandchildren, because we're going to leave them so far in debt, and we haven't even begun
to talk about how do we fix Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid.
Ahh, but saving best for last, there is Alaska. Many months ago, I took some shots at the famous bridge to nowhere, and called Don Young the New Huey Long. Now, even some Alaska residents are willing to give it up to help New Orleans:
The amendment became a cause celebre on the left and the
right, with watchdog and conservative groups reporting updates on their
Web sites throughout the day. The Club for Growth alerted readers early
yesterday on its Web log, or blog: "As of last night, the opposition is
putting up a big fight. They sense this amendment, if successful, as
establishing a precedent. A precedent where all pork is vulnerable and
no lawmaker is safe."
Later in the day, the Heritage
Foundation circulated a paper, "The Bridge to Nowhere: A National
Embarrassment," and noted, "fiscally responsible members of Congress
should be eager to zero out its funding." Even the Sierra Club backed
the amendment, noting, "We must fix the nation's existing
And, there is a curious twist
to the story: Many residents of Alaska appear to support forfeiting the
bridge money for hurricane relief. "This money, a gift from the people
of Alaska, will represent more than just material aid; it will be a
symbol for our beleaguered democracy," reads a typical letter to the
Anchorage Daily News.
Young, who made sure his state
was one of the top recipients in the highway bill, was asked by an
Alaska reporter what he made of the public support for redirecting the
bridge money. "They can kiss my ear! That is the dumbest thing I've
ever heard," he replied.
Anyone want to be that a large portion of Mr. Young's campaign donations come from local construction contractors?