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Mad-pork disease hits Congress

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

Want to amaze your friends? Offer up some examples of the “pork barrel” trough in Washington, D.C., and then get out of the way when their jaws drop.

I swiped this little quiz from the Washington Post:

1. Which state led the nation in pork-barrel spending per person in 2003?

2. Which state has received more than $2 million since 2001 for research on producing a particular kind of citrus crop “under potentially unfavorable conditions”?

3. Which legislator said, “They call me ‘the Pork King.’ They don’t know how much I enjoy it”?

4. Why did Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, win the “Porker of the Week” award on Feb. 27 last year?

Answers

1. Alaska, with $393 million, or $610.99, per person. Alaska’s Sen. Ted Stevens, R, is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

2. Alabama, for research on new methods of producing a crop of Satsuma oranges.

3. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

4. Inouye won the award, given by Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., for securing $220,000 to have the Interior Department look into the abundance of green algae piling up on the beaches of West Maui. Inouye also obtained $2.3 million for brown tree snake control and $586,000 for the Agriculture Department to monitor pineapple and papaya crops.

The Post’s sources for the information are the Iowa Pork Producers Association, Citizens Against Government Waste (www.cagw.org) and Rep. Joel Hefley’s Web site.

I went to the Citizens Against Government Waste site’s Porker Hall of Shame and found, unfortunately, Nevada Rep. Jim Gibbons honored as the December 2003 Porker of the Month.

This was, of course, for the notorious “Polliwog Caper,” in which Gibbons confessed to clogging a drain in the swimming pool in Sparks as a kid in the 1950s. The spending bill for 2004 contains $225,000 for repairs at the Sparks pool. (Not necessarily for the drain clogged 50 years ago, but other stuff.)

“I cannot think of a better way to spend $225,000 than to give the children of Sparks a swimming pool,” Gibbons said.

To which the Citizens Against Government Waste replied: “If only every American had the opportunity to spend federal tax dollars to appease their guilt and atone for the sins of their childhood.”

The Polliwog Caper made for a good story, but the spending bill is for $373 billion. So it’s going to take more than a few polliwogs to keep Congress from draining the pool of American tax dollars.

Going back to Alaska’s Ted Stevens for a moment, his booty last year included $2 million for the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, $750,000 for sea otter research in Alaska and $225,000 for the Beluga Whaling Committee.

“Over the past three years alone, Sen. Stevens has brought home $1.3 billion in pork,” say the Citizens Against Government Waste.

The one thing we thought we would get with a Republican in the White House and Republicans in control of Congress was a rein on runaway government spending. Unfortunately, Bush and the bunch are leading the charge.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, columnist George Melloan points out that “one of Ronald Reagan’s purposes in cutting taxes was to deny Congress access to money. It worked reasonably well in the 1980s, because credit was more expensive than now and Congress realized that excessive borrowing was hyping the government’s interest costs, a dead weight politically.”

Reagan, continues Melloan, was able to hold spending increases to 6.8 percent in his first three years. George W., it’s sad to say, has allowed federal spending to rise 15.6 percent during his term.

The alternative obviously isn’t to elect Democrats – not if your overriding concern is to hold the line on federal spending. That’s why Bush’s budget increases haven’t been a big issue so far. The Democratic candidates want to spend more. They’ve criticized his tax cuts because, well, that just means less to spend.

Among the most famous pieces of pork in the bill were $20 million for a “golf awareness” program in Florida and $50 million for an “indoor rain forest” in rural Iowa.

The Iowa plan calls for construction of a 4.5 acre indoor rain forest, a 1 million gallon aquarium, a mixed-media theater, interactive galleries, outdoor trails and a re-created wetland and prairie.

Former Iowa Gov. Robert D. Ray, the chairman of the board of directors for the project, called the idea “the most sensational project in the history of the state.”

Support cite figures such as 500 construction jobs over 2 1/2 years, 400 permanent jobs, an economic impact of $120 million annually and more than $1 billion a decade from a projected 1.3-1.5 million visitors annually.

I just shake my head. Then I see the proposal for a $12 billion magnetic levitation train between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. 9,000 construction jobs. 2.3 million tourists a year. $1.4 billion into the Las Vegas economy.

Somebody’s got to draw a line. Everybody wants it drawn in somebody else’s state.

Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at editor@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1221.