Pork – tasty but quite expensive

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Can pork be fish? Can it be a starch, like a potato? Or can pork really be a healthy, lean meat?

Well, it depends upon your definition of pork, the congressional kind.

Our favorite is the $1 million Congress recently appropriated for the Waterfree Urinal Initiative. And then there’s the $500 which was appropriated for the Teapot Museum in Sparta, N.C. And, while we’re at it, there is the $250,000 to help fund the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, Iowa.

The Citizens Against Government Waste recently released its annual “Pig Book,” a compendium of all the “pork” in the federal budget. The book is no doubt a fun read, but the group’s Web site is probably more user-friendly, www.cagw.org.

The group identifies 9,963 pork projects in the 11 appropriations bills passed for fiscal year 2006. And the group announced that the Pig Book is the biggest and most expensive ever – $29 billion, or 6.2 percent more than last year’s total.

Pork, to the CAGW, is anything a member “earmarks” in an appropriations bill for his or her state “in circumvention of established congressional budget procedures.” Typically, pork-barrel projects are not competitively awarded or requested by the president, and are not the subject of congressional hearings, CAGW said.

And the group has many ways to slice the pork. For instance, it says Alaskans are on a pretty heavy diet of pig: $489.87 per person per year. Of course, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is a ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Hawaii, which probably enjoys pineapple on its pork, is second ($378 per person) and Sen. Daniel Inouye, a Democrat, is also a ranking member of the committee.

For better or worse, Maine’s two senators really can’t match those two for pork production. Maine’s citizens will enjoy a measly $28.57 in federal pork this year. That’s slightly below the average for all states of $30.55 per person. It is, however, far better than the $12.06 per person the citizens of Georgia will get next year.

Like most things, however, pork is in the eye of the beholder. Scanning through the list for Maine, you will not find any bridges to nowhere or polka museums. Consider this piece of “pork:” $500,000 for Atlantic salmon habitat restoration. (You see, pork can be fish.)

Or, ponder this: “$80,000 for potato blight research services.” Or these: $100,000 for juvenile drug treatment; $100,000 for rescue equipment for the Warden Service or $519,000 for Gulf of Maine groundfish survey.

The list of such projects is long, and it’s all “pork,” at least according to the CAGW.

The reality is a little less dramatic: Pork is most often a lean meat – it’s stuff somebody, someplace thinks is important.

The problem is that there is virtually no control over how much the federal government purchases. In other words, there is no end to the things we want or need.

Well, except maybe waterless urinals.

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