Sunday, June 17, 2007

30,000 Strips of Bacon, Please.

When reading about the debate raging on the House floor this week about the Department of Homeland Security authorization bill, a few thoughts popped into my head. The foremost is that it served as an example of why the average taxpayer has given up on Washington. Here we have the new Congress getting ready to pass their first appropriations bill, containing many programs people support (border agents, air cargo screening, etc.), and a brawl broke out between the Republicans and Democrats over earmarks.

The fight between the parties erupted when Rep. David Obey, Chair of the Appropriations Committee, said there were too many requests for earmarks to process and they'd deal with them later. The mind numbing number of requests: 30,000. That works out to roughly 69 earmark requests per member of Congress. If that were to be what we can expect going forward, that would translate to 360,000 requests for pet projects over this year.

Whether the 30,000 requests represent Democrats trying to make up for years in the minority (the majority gets 60% of requests) or Republicans trying to sabotage the process, or some combination of the two, is unclear. Both sides are blaming the other. Whatever the cause, 30,000 is simply a ridiculous number. After reading some of what was causing the fight, part of me wishes Rep. Obey had made good on his threat to completely strip the bill of earmarks. This from the Washington Post:
Debate on the $36 billion homeland security bill, which would fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency, border security and counterterrorism measures, bogged down last night as Republicans pushed scores of amendments aimed at banning the use of counterterrorism money for designer handbags, puppet shows and other programs included in the legislation.
PUPPET SHOWS??????????????

I've talked before about funding to combat the spread of crystal meth being carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey by the folks on Capitol Hill. It's a perfect example of why earmarking is detrimental to the health of our nation, even though members of Congress see it as healthy for their careers. While the Republican Congress earmarked 84% of the funding to combat the issue, meth use among young people rose much faster and across a larger geographic area than estimated. Had the funds gone toward prevention education and actual law enforcement, instead of the couches and ping pong tables an audit found, maybe twice as many young people as originally thought wouldn't be using the stuff.

There are very real consequences to using Federal dollars for ridiculous pork projects. Spending money for a Coach purse instead of working walkie-talkies for a first responders could cost lives. Puppet shows instead of respirators? These types of actions tend to bring out the cynic in me and the majority of the voting public. Even though most of the earmarks were stripped, the fact Representatives would put that garbage in a bill to begin with is an example of just how far out of touch some in Washington really are.

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