The federal government is $9 trillion is debt, and facing a slew of financial challenges, from the coming recession to the mortgage meltdown to the war in Iraq to the health care crisis, etc.
With all of these major challenges, you would think the geniuses we send to Congress would get their priorities straight and work on solving these big national problems.
But no, they spend their time securing funding for lobster institutes and Mother's Day shrines.
It's tax time, and what better time for the Citizens Against Government Waste to release its report describing who on Capitol Hill gives out our tax dollars on silly projects that should never be considered for federal funding.
For years, debates have raged about what constitutes government pork, and whether it justifies the expense. There are undoubtedly some very deserving projects tucked away in the federal budget. There are also some real boondoggles.
For instance, should we be spending $7.5 million on wine research? I like wine, but it's not something the government should be subsidizing. How many armored vehicles can you buy with $7.5 million? Might that have saved a life or two?
Alaska gets the most money per capita, more than twice any other state. GOP Sen. Ted Stevens, the guy who thinks the Internet is a series of tubes, is a champion for bringing home the bacon, from $968,175 for berry research, to $1,128,000 for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Alaska Eagle River.
Let's remember that the State of Alaska earns enough money from oil production that it sends out annual royalty checks to anyone who has lived in the state for at least a year. Those royalty checks add up to more than all the pork Congress sends to Alaska. Perhaps it's time they start paying for their own bacon.
But let's not pick on Alaska. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) is a long-time king of pork, and this year is no exception. He earmarked $2.4 million for renovations to a riverfront park in Charleston, W.V. I'm sure that every American will benefit from that expenditure, right? Byrd also wrangled $123,050 for a Mother's Day Shrine in the tiny town of Grafton, W.V. Perhaps a better tribute to mothers in Grafton would be to provide access to health care for their children.
Let's not forget our presidential candidates. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) helped secure $1,648,850 for the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, while Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) fought to get $390,000 for Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. I like jazz, too, but I don't think it's right that my country-music-loving father in Kansas has to pay for people in New York to listen to it.
My state's main pork producer is Majority Leader Harry Reid. Among the morsels he obtained for Nevada is $590,400 for the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas. Like we need reminders of the mushroom clouds and radiation that once adorned the state.
The mayor of my city told me the other day that he's trying to get Reid to funnel some money to our local railroad project. While this might keep me from paying more local taxes, that doesn't make it right.
State and local governments have now been trained - like Pavlov's dog - to always go to Washington first to fund any project, no matter how stupid. And our Congress-critters are only too happy to push through funding to make their voters happy.
When you add up all this pork, it's a tiny fraction of the federal budget. But if Congress can't say no to these small, frivolous projects, how will it ever deal with the huge, budget-busting stuff?
While the coming recession will make life more difficult for many, it's also an opportunity for Congress and the next president to reform this spending train wreck. The federal government needs to focus on priorities that are national, not local. State and local governments should be told the Washington gravy train has ended, and any local projects will need to be funded locally.
Liberals and conservatives can argue about which national needs best deserve to be funded, but I would think we could agree that Congress needs to stick to truly national projects, and leave the funding of flower gardens and theater remodels to state and local entities.
• Kirk Caraway writes for Swift Communications, Inc. He can be reached through his blog at