September 13, 2007

Pork, The Cholesterol Of Infrastructure

Remember when people acted outraged after the collapse of the St. Anthony Bridge in Minneapolis because of the neglect of American infrastructure? We don't spend enough on maintaining what our grandparents bequeathed us, as some poetically put it. Others offered more prosaic and predictable rants aimed at people who oppose tax increases; one Minneapolis crank blamed the Taxpayers League for the thirteen deaths. Had we taken more money from the people, they claimed, the bridge would have received proper maintenance and never would have collapsed, even though no one knows to this day what initiated the disaster.

Before we start blaming a lack of money, though, let's take a look at the amount of wasted funds that this Congress approved even after the bridge collapsed:

Six weeks after a fatal Minneapolis bridge collapse prompted criticism of federal spending priorities, the Senate approved a transportation and housing bill Wednesday containing at least $2 billion for pet projects that include a North Dakota peace garden, a Montana baseball stadium and a Las Vegas history museum.

That's not the half of it.

Total spending on transportation "earmarks" next year is likely to be about $8 billion, when legislative projects from a previously approved, five-year highway bill are factored in. A newly released report by the Department of Transportation's inspector general identified 8,056 earmarks totaling $8.5 billion in the fiscal year that ended in October, or 13.5% of the Transportation Department's $63 billion spending plan.

The inspector general's report found that the vast majority of earmarks — project-specific spending instructions written into bills, usually by lawmakers — were not evaluated on their merits, and that many "low-priority" earmarks often squeezed out more important projects.

Want to know what had to be cut from the bill in order to get the North Dakota Peace Garden? Oh, just a silly little project that would have updated technology in air-traffic control towers. But the Peace Garden wasn't the only beneficiary of freeing up funds from making air travel safer. California will also get a "mule and packer museum". Perhaps Americans can start traveling by donkey instead.

Senator Tom Coburn attempted to stop the pork party, to no avail. He offered an amendment that would have forbidden earmarks on transportation bills until all deficient bridges had been properly updated. That just barely failed -- by a vote of 82 to 14. Eighty-two Senators voted to prioritize pork over infrastructure maintenance.

In fact, the pork comes to one out of every eight dollars spent on transportation now. In the past eleven years, earmarks have increased a whopping 1150%, while the dollar value of the pork has increased over 300% in the same period. Ninety-nine percent of these earmarks bypassed planning agencies, meaning that the monies got no review for prioritization. How many bridges could have been repaired with that money over the last decade? How many baseball fields in places like Billings got built instead?

Eight billion dollars would build 32 new St. Anthony Bridges. How many hundreds could it have repaired? And that's just this transportation bill.

Politicians like Jim Oberstar love their bike paths and museums, especially when they have their names attached to them. Oberstar and his ilk would rather spend money on their vanity projects than infrastructure. And after demonstrating such perverse priorities on managing our money, the porkers have the temerity to demand even more in taxes to do what they should have done from the beginning.

Today, I'll talk with Senator Coburn on Heading Right Radio, at 2 pm ET. Don't miss this show, and be sure to call us at 646-652-4889 to speak with one of the few politicians looking to eliminate the gateway drug of public corruption.

UPDATE: Here's the list of Senators who voted in support of Dr. Coburn's amendment to suspend all earmarks until deficient bridges are repaired, or didn't cast a vote:

NAYs ---14
Barrasso (R-WY)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
DeMint (R-SC)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Feingold (D-WI)
Grassley (R-IA)
Isakson (R-GA)
Kyl (R-AZ)
McCaskill (D-MO)

Not Voting - 4
Craig (R-ID)
Dodd (D-CT)
McCain (R-AZ)
Obama (D-IL)

Every other Senator voted to keep pork rather than fix bridges. Twelve of Coburn's supporters were Republicans, while only two Democrats voted to forego pork in the name of public safety.

And these people want more of our money?

BUMP: To top.


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Comments (41)

Posted by Richard Daugherty | September 13, 2007 9:22 AM

You need to put this out to everyone even the ones that won't listen.

Posted by FedUp | September 13, 2007 9:27 AM

This is a disgrace! All that money... the Dems wildly proclaiming how much the Iraqi war is costing and that they need more! I'm tired of working to fund pet pork projects and I am thoroughly disgusted with Pelosi and her crew of robbers! THIS is our ethical congress? THIS is our transparency? This is a boatload of crap!

Every earmark should be published on the web BEFORE it's 'passed' with the author, the reason and the amount! Then, WE the People should innundate these porkers and yell in their collective ears... right before we vote them out!

Posted by Carindals Nation | September 13, 2007 9:31 AM

Good God, man. Why are you wasting our time talking about yesterday's news? All the BDS milage that could be extracted has been extracted from this story. We have the patriotism of generals to question and videos of another Britney Spears trainwreck to watch.
Now if you had a missing body or two and a crying mother blaming the BUSHitler conspiracy, that'd be a different story. We'll do a remote for that.

Peace out.

Posted by Angry Dumbo | September 13, 2007 10:13 AM

And Rahm Emanuel is writing about SSA reform in the WSJ. Republicans lacked leadership when they had the opportunity to lead. They will not likely be given that opportunity again.

Posted by DirtCrashr | September 13, 2007 10:15 AM

As a Californian I can say with some confidence that the California "Mule and Packer Museum" is most likely a pilot-project preceding a go-forward directive on the part of the California Air Resources Board who are tirelessly searching for a perfect, environmentally sensitive, and sustainable bio-mass vehicle, once zero-emissions has been reached...

Posted by docjim505 | September 13, 2007 11:20 AM

One in every eight dollars, eh?

Let's assume for the sake of argument that this is true throughout the federal budget, i.e. that 12.5% of it is "earmarks". How long would it take to pay down the debt if we cut out earmarks entirely and thus reduced the budget by 12.5%? Or if (gasp!) the government could reduce taxes by 12.5%? What if this 12.5% went into the Social Security "trust fund"? How much longer would SS remain solvent?

People sometimes defend earmarks: "It's not that much money" or "They create jobs" or "Everybody does it". But I think that this bill, coming so soon after the bridge collapse in Minnesota, really throws a harsh light on just how wasteful the federal budget actually is. There is no excuse for members of Congress raiding the treasury for their own political gain; the treasury isn't a slush fund for every State to grab all it can.

Posted by AnotherOpinion | September 13, 2007 11:43 AM

Aside from the temerity to raise taxes, they then come to me asking for donations to get re-elected! It seems like the little guy has no power when I scream in outrage and they ignore it.

Posted by LaMano | September 13, 2007 11:50 AM

This would make a GREAT ad. Visit the places the funds went, the "mule and packer museum" would be required, and a visual of what did not get funded and the potential CONSEQUENCES. We all know taxpayers get raging mad when they've been 'had'. Especially, when a very few receive benefits and everyone else is potentially put at higher risk.

I would contribute to have it broadcast across the U.S. Heck, even a Youtube video could create quite a stir.

Posted by RD | September 13, 2007 11:51 AM

When the new members of Congress are ushered in with all their well intentioned and promised reforms they are immediately co-opted and schooled by the older members and told the ins and outs of getting along in the Congress and if they do not cooperate they are reduced to nonentities. The whole system needs to be reformed. As it stands now it is a benevolent and protective brotherhood.

Posted by Al Maviva | September 13, 2007 11:53 AM

Um, take it easy on the bike paths there, Captain Ed. I think you need to judge them on the merits, kind of like road construction projects.

I work in a large urban area with thousands (to tens of thousands on a nice day) of daily bike commuters. In addition to freeing up parking spots and cutting down on traffic, it cuts into the mullahs' profits, and for the people who do it keeps them healthy and often makes their commmute shorter (given the state of rush hour traffic). I've seen some bike paths that were a waste of money, but where I live they are a heavily used bit of transportation infrastructure, and that doesn't count the fitness users, dog walkers and the ridiculously dense population of weekend users (since most in this area are converted rails-to-trails and cutting through public land). If the commuters weren't on these bike paths, they'd be loading up other transportation infrastructure, so for us it's not a case of pork, but of resource allocation.

And on that mullah point, every day I ride, I save 3-4 gallons of gas, from not idling along in heavy traffic. Some ride further, many ride less, but assume 5,000 commuters saving 2.5 gallons a piece, per day. Resource scarcity and global warming arguments aside, I don't think it's a bad thing to husband natural resources in that manner. Is there some reason that I, as a conservative, should be against conservation?

Posted by RD | September 13, 2007 12:03 PM

I know that the CCC camps were much maligned during the depression but as we drive through the Black Hills of South Dakota much of their rock work and buildings are still in evidence-they were built to last and these young men learned skills and were kept working and out of trouble. I think that there needs to be a renewed concept and that is that no able bodied person will receive a government check for unemployment or welfare without doing work for it and of course this means public work projects. The infrastructure of the US could once again be restored. (I'll bet it's the liberals who would balk at this this time around)Fire away!

Posted by Shaprshooter | September 13, 2007 12:14 PM

RD: How about we use slave labor? That'll keep them out of trouble. They used that in Egypt to build the pyramids and they're still standing 3000 years later.

Posted by Shaprshooter | September 13, 2007 12:16 PM

Hmmm...12 Republicans, 2 Democrats.

Yup...the "adults" are certainly in charge now.

Posted by swabjockey05 | September 13, 2007 12:32 PM

Al Maviva brings up some good points. But to me, the question is who should be funding it...why does it have to be the Feds?

If you are lucky enough to live in an area where you can ride save $$ not just in gas, but in car insurance, car maint, parking're the one saving the dough and living a better life...tell me again why I should have to subsidize it?

Of course I would suggest cutting many more “subsidies’…many of which would make many “conservatives” squeal.

Posted by docjim505 | September 13, 2007 12:34 PM

Al Maviva,

I don't think anybody is against bike paths, but some of us are SHARPLY critical of how they are paid for. If the good citizens of your city want to make accomodations for bicycling commuters, more power to them. But why should citizens in other cities and states pay for it through federal taxes?

It's also a little hard to swallow that a major interstate bridge collapsed "due to lack of funding" when it seems that Congress can find PLENTY of funding for bike paths... or mule museums.

Posted by Conrad | September 13, 2007 12:37 PM

Weather we want to admit it or not our overcrowded roads and bridges contribute to give us a better quality of life in this country. When a bridge collapses it lowers our quality of life. Just look at the quality of life that took a nose dive around the metro area around the I-35 bridge collapse in Minnisota and that should be proof enough about where our priorities should be in regard to transportation spending.

Our politicians are disgraceful. Many of them seek office for their own reasons - and it is not to serve the public good. We (the people) have to hold them to task if we expect anything useful and benificial to get done for the public welfare.

Posted by DaveG | September 13, 2007 12:40 PM

Here's a profile in courage:

Not voting:

Dodd (D-CT): running for President

McCain (R-AZ): running his mouth about inappropriate spending AND running for president

Obama (D-IL): running his mouth about everything AND running for president

Craig (R-ID): just plain running. Away.

Posted by BH | September 13, 2007 12:44 PM

I agree conservation is a good thing and it shouldn't be a conservative vs. liberal issue. But, as a conservative you should be against taking money from people in Orange County California, where I live, to build bike trails wherever you live. If bike trails are a local priority where you live then you should pay for them. You shouldn't ask me to pay for them.

Posted by RD | September 13, 2007 12:47 PM

Yeah Shaprshooter I guess you're right-working for a paycheck at a job that you hate is slavery-better to just collect the money.

Posted by Carol Herman | September 13, 2007 12:53 PM

You know what really frosts me? There seems to be a belief that the only way we can change the structure of congress, is to usher in "term limits."

HEY! That's not gonna work! That's on par with asking homosexuals to stop using hand-signals!

On the other hand, I discovered many election cycles ago, that I could do my own "term limits" by just NEVER, EVER voting for an encumbent. And, never, ever, voting for a judge who is running unopposed.

Recently, in California, now, under the ballot choices where a dude or dudette is running "unopposed," is the word NO. And, I take advantage of that!

There was a time, too, that if a judge; or someone at a local level, had a Jewish name. I'd plug IN that one.


I also don't go on automatic pilot to vote for women.

How long will it take to make changes?

Gee. Did you know when LBJ was in the senate, he didn't have to cope with bitches and their separate toilets? It used to be a male paradise. Then, someone forgot to bite the "intelligence" apple. So they last, there, but it ain't Eden.

The ancient Greeks got it about right for history. There were two plays honoring the equality of women and men. (Before women got slung into the kitchen.) ANTIGONE. And, MEDEA. Two emotional loony fruitcakes.

For the Greeks it was stories, writ large, about how life worked. Sure. Done from the stage.

It's also where Homer's poem was traded word-for-word, orally. Telling the heroic tale of Troy's demise. And, where Achilles is portrayed through most of the chapters as a scoundrel; who watches the Greeks dying. Rather than doing the right thing. Does he still have a choice?

Yes. At the end he can pick a very long life where no one after, would know his name. Or he could go out in glory.

As I said. Antigone and Medea go "out." But not in glory.

Each one of us gets to vote. Each one of us controls our own votes. Nobody else's.

And, from what I've learned about life, so far, (where in the 1950's, educated men began to believe they could be "persuaders" ... instead destroyed DETROIT.) ONE CITY! Killed by two groups. The managers on top. And, the UNIONS that wanted to earn so much pay there was nothing left to share.

Happens all the time.

That's why having a good enough education is so important.

The presidential race, coming up in 2008, will be pivotal. (And, I'm already seeing a re-focussing. Fred Thompson, McCain, and Guiliani, are all racing IN THE CENTER. No stupid religious games for them! They're racing to show Iowa and New Hampshire; by being so strange ... can become the political equivalent of DETROIT.)

Nobody says this isn't painful to the locals.

Posted by Carol Herman | September 13, 2007 1:10 PM

Angry Dumbo, I know I can't have it both ways.

Either 2008 is gonna be "pivotal." Or, it's not.

And, either our President will deal with syria/iran, or he won't.

But up ahead, given that the Internet gives you a lot more information than you'd have gotten if you just depended on the lazy-legacy-media; don't you think it's possible that there's hemmoraging on the left? The body politic is the WHOLE.

The insane politics of the affirmative action crowd "could be" drawing to a close. As a woman, I do believe it's time came. And, went.

How will the Bonkeys survive, if they're still committed to BDS? Or global-pants-warming. Or hand-signals under the toilet door?

You think you can always sell crap?

Today, up at Glenn Reynolds, he shows ya what happened to his feet, when he bought 'flip-flops' from Walmart's, for two-bucks a pair. Ain't pretty.

And, the Internet will let you see this. You, and hundreds of thousands of others. More coverage than you'd get with a "big" pulitzer prize type article in any one of the fish wraps.

DRUDGE has actually proved this point. All you can say is "gee, those who hand our honors and prizes, don't give him any credit." Did you know he doesn't care? Did you know why? Because his business couldn't be better.

Also, up at Glenn Reynolds, today, is the blurb, where McCain said to Hillary-shrillery, that if she didn't have the strength to comment on Move-on, (the odor's strong), when they disrupted the senate chamber; then she doesn't have what it takes to be president.

Here, I am of two minds. I think Hillary's gonna get knocked out before the nomination process for Bonkey nominee. Heck, it's gonna make for one strange stage, when somebody else goes up there to "accept." Well, that's my bet.

And, as I said, I think she'd make an excellent nominee for the Bonkeys. It's been about two thousand years, now, since women have been driven out of town. Affirmative action is as dead as Osama. Which means the old-media will play this crap like old vaudeville songs. (Vaudeville, as a stage, however, is still quite dead.)

Posted by FedUp | September 13, 2007 1:20 PM

Carol... I respectfully disagree about term limits. In a great many cases, that is the only way to get rid of deadwood (Byrd, Teddy, Harry, Murtha...). Since these sleazes bring home the pork, they are going to keep getting voted in. That is not healthy! The power is too concentrated and the partisan politics are getting worse every year. I think that was brought home in part when Rahm got the blue dogs elected and then they didn't all salivate at the throne of the good old boys! We need more new people with good ideas who are not locked into partnerships with the devil to keep their seats!

(Rant off)

ps... Political Correctness needs to die a swift and horrible death!

Posted by Al Maviva | September 13, 2007 1:24 PM

But why should citizens in other cities and states pay for it through federal taxes?

But, as a conservative you should be against taking money from people in Orange County California, where I live, to build bike trails wherever you live.

Why not make the same argument about taking money from Mississippi to defend the coasts, which are the primary interests of our terrorist enemies; or on taxing New York and Cali to build highways across the generally empty heartland?

FWIW, the amount allocated to bike trails in the last omnibus transportation bill was $7 million *nationally*. "Bike Paths" is a pretty good whipping boy but if you're going to spend federal tax dollars on transportation, that's at least transportation. Federal money typically functions as seed funds for rails-to-trails and states, localities and various conservancy groups (e.g. rails-to-trails conservancies, C&O Canal Trail preservation groups, etc) pony up the rest. Bike paths cost a fraction of the cost of roads but still have a similar cost; you couldn't build a single decent one of any significant length for $7 mil. I'd rather it was all locally funded but believe that if the FedGov is in the transportation and national energy policy setting business, this isn't the worst use I've seen of it. $7 mil wouldn't even buy a couple bridge pilings on Ted Stevens' bridge to nowhere. A half million of that is enough to spur a municipality to get moving on part of its master traffic plan, and that's how DOT usually allocates the money in this arena, $500k or $1mil at a time. So my preference would be no federal spending on roads other than the interstate highway system, but my second choice is to spend the money on useful transportation projects. In S. Dakota, it's highways and salt domes; where I live, it's more alternative means of transportation, since there simply isn't much room to cram in more roads and more cars at this point. Like I said, I think you have to evaluate it on a project-by-project basis.

Insofar as reducing foreign petro-dependency is

Posted by Russell | September 13, 2007 1:44 PM

This is not a left/right issue. Not a Republican/ Democrat issue. It is a special interest issue...both sides are supported by them. Tax and spend reform is essential to control pork.

Posted by JohnG | September 13, 2007 1:46 PM

"California will also get a "mule and packer museum"."???

It's fitting that Congress should create a museum for an ass!.

Posted by JudithA | September 13, 2007 1:57 PM

Say what you will about the "North Dakota" Peace is actually the "International Peace Gardens" jointly funded by Canada and the USA with funds also provided by the Province of Manitoba and the State of North Dakota. It was created in 1932 and hosts numerous international music camps during the summer months...everything from vocal music to orchestra to handbells for adults and children.

In this crazy world, it is a small (only 2400 acres) park designated truly to show how our two countries can get along in peace. The amount that was put in to fund this park was only $450,000 and was put in to help fund the repairs needed to help get the park back in shape after devastating rains this past June.

If you cut out funding to things that are good and beautiful and meaningful in the world and only fund the "necessities", then life doesn't have the same meaning.

No, it isn't a National Park, but as it is an International Park, it should be funded as a shining example of how good things can be between countries (at least between the western half of Canada and the US anyway.)

I'm as conservative as can be, but somethings are worth our tax dollars. If you have never been to the Peace Gardens, a trip in late June-early July will take your breath away!

Posted by George B | September 13, 2007 2:18 PM

I'd love to eliminate the federal excise tax on gasoline, end federal highway funds except possibly for rural interstates, and shift responsibility for highway infrastructure to the states. The federal excise tax on diesel fuel probably could fund the rural interstate highways. I see no reason I have to send money to Washington D.C. so a couple hundred basically retired somewhat senile lawyer politicians can make decisions on highway infrastructure for my state.

Posted by Jordan | September 13, 2007 2:27 PM

I'm as conservative as can be, but somethings are worth our tax dollars. If you have never been to the Peace Gardens, a trip in late June-early July will take your breath away!

No they aren't. There's nothing preventing you and likeminded individuals from paying for it on your own. My money isn't here to caiter to your tastes, and your tastes are not the same as everyone else's.

Posted by Fod | September 13, 2007 2:31 PM

Regarding the bikepaths discussion...

Let me sidestep the issue of whether Federal transportation dollars should pay for anything off the Interstate or (National Highway System), but as long as they are - then we should consider them infrastructure. We have been conditioned to giving one personal transportation mode, the automobile, preference. Everything else is recreation. In the course of doing that we have limited our personal transportation choices and impoverished ourselves.

Think about this: If your child asks to go to the library, or school, or the park what would you say? Would your answer be different if she asked to ride her bike or walk?

Posted by Casey Tompkins | September 13, 2007 2:48 PM

Um, Ed, did you get the voting pattern backwards? I followed the link to the actual motion, and the stated purpose is

To prohibit funds appropriated under title I from being used for earmarks until all structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges have been repaired, with limited exceptions.
(emphasis added)

Now this is just me, but that reads like voting "Yea" on this resolution would be voting to prohibit earmarks, not permit them.

In other words 82 senators voted "Yea" to prohibit earmarks in transportation bills, and 14 voted "Nay" to not prohibit them; that is to say allow them.

...On the other hand, Coburn did vote "Nay," so maybe I'm mis-reading the language. Can anyone explain this to me?

Posted by docjim505 | September 13, 2007 3:25 PM

Al Maviva: Why not make the same argument about taking money from Mississippi to defend the coasts, which are the primary interests of our terrorist enemies; or on taxing New York and Cali to build highways across the generally empty heartland?

Oh, come now! I don't want to be insulting, but this is the kind of logic I'd expect from a lib. The government of a country - ANY country - has an obligation to defend the whole thing. Collective defense is (IMO) one of the very few legitimate purposes of a government. As for the interstates and federal highways, the commerce of the NATION rides on them. That's why the NATION pays for them.

The rest of your arguments in favor of bike paths seem to be:

1. It's not that much money.

As I indicated in my original post, many people defend earmarks in general by saying, "It's not that much money". Yes, the cost of a bike path may not even be a drop in the bucket of the federal budget, but drops add up. Sen. Foghorn gets money to build a bike path ("It's only $1 million") while Congressman Twiddle gets money to build a horse and buggy museum ("It's only $1.2 million") while Senator Twaddle gets money to build a replica covered bridge ("It's only $750,000"). After a while, as we see from the article cited by Cap'n Ed, all those "little" earmarks add up to some serious money.

How would you feel if the government cut me a check for $1 million? Don't think that's a good idea, you say? Why not? It's not that much money.

2. Bike paths are good for energy independence.

Yeah, they probably are to the extent that people use them. I'm glad that you enjoy biking to work; I'd be thinner and healthier if I did. Taking money out of the grubby hands of the Saudis and other unsavory characters is a good idea, too. But it isn't the government's place to build things in the hopes that people will use them. It especially isn't the federal government's place to build them unless they have some sort of national importance. Again, why should people in No. Carolina pay for bike paths or horse and buggy museums or covered bridges in California or Ohio or Washington State?

Congressmen rely on arguments like you made to justify their use of the treasury as a sort of reelection fund for themselves. They like going home during campaign season and bragging about all the goodies they got for their state and district. "Vote for me, because I took money from the other 49 states and gave it to you!"

We need to put an end to this sort of thing.

If you and the citizens in your city or county want a bike path, by all means: raise local taxes or sell bonds and build away. But please don't ask me to pay for it.

There are bike paths I'd like to build where I live.

Posted by Hoystory | September 13, 2007 4:27 PM

Casey, this was a motion made to table the amendment -- that is, to kill it. Those who voted "yea" killed it.

Posted by Count to 10 | September 13, 2007 4:46 PM

Not that it would be politically feasible, but there is only one way I can think of to fix the pork problem: prohibit (constitutionally) congress from spending money on domestic infrastructure projects, and set up a body composed of representatives appointed (like ambassadors) by the governors of the states that would decide how money, donated voluntarily by the states, is spent on infrastructure.

Thats probably the way the Senate should have worked in the first place.

When it comes down to it, if it is important enough to the locals that some local project gets done, the locals will pay for it. Everything else is pandering.

Posted by Conrad | September 13, 2007 5:07 PM

No one wants to spend tax dollars on interstate highways and bridges? So how do we fix this?

How about an excise tax paid on goods transported across our interstate system, and the military can pony up funds to make sure the bridges and roads can accomodate their vihicles, and the rest of us pay a toll when we use the interste system.

The States and cities can pay for their own bridges outside the interstate system.

Our early infrastucture was built with cheap labor. We do not have that option today - or do we? Perhaps we need to do some creative thinking.

We have gone from an industrial nation and outsourced for our products because of cheap labor abroad. It seems that we cannot do that for our labor to build roads and bridges - or can we?

The work force is already here but we cannot use them, Why? Perhaps they are illegal? How do we fix that? Perhaps temporary visas, provide temporary mobile housing and cafeterias until the work is done, them send them home with their pockets full of greenbacks?

What about funding for the repair of our roads and bridges? How about special interest free bonds and when the funds come in to pay them off the money is burned and not put back into circulation?

There are solutions for everything if we really want solutions. Someone out there may have an even better solution than the ones I have suggested.

Oh, and one more thing: We need an overhaul of our legislative bodies. Many of the bodies need to be thrown out and replaced with new blood. We need people that want to take care of our land and our resources. I am not talking about the seirra club type. But people that sincerely love America and what it stands for.

Posted by Eric | September 13, 2007 7:22 PM

docjim505 said:
One in every eight dollars, eh?
Let's assume for the sake of argument that this is true throughout the federal budget, i.e. that 12.5% of it is "earmarks". How long would it take to pay down the debt if we cut out earmarks entirely and thus reduced the budget by 12.5%? Or if (gasp!) the government could reduce taxes by 12.5%? What if this 12.5% went into the Social Security "trust fund"? How much longer would SS remain solvent?
People sometimes defend earmarks: "It's not that much money" or "They create jobs" or "Everybody does it". But I think that this bill, coming so soon after the bridge collapse in Minnesota, really throws a harsh light on just how wasteful the federal budget actually is. There is no excuse for members of Congress raiding the treasury for their own political gain; the treasury isn't a slush fund for every State to grab all it can.

Eric Said:
12.5%….that’s more than we spend on Iraq. It’s twice as much.

Posted by Ryan | September 13, 2007 8:39 PM

If they want a bike path, propose a bill SPECIFICALLY ASKING FOR IT and vote on that bill. I don't care if they bring up the projects. .as long as they do so openly, and everyone has to put their name on the record as voting for or against THAT project.

If you want a bike path, at least be honest about it rather than trying to hide it.

Posted by patrick neid | September 13, 2007 8:50 PM

rarely does confirmation come so soon. as part of the group that vehemently commented about not raising taxes to fix the bridge it usually takes years to be proven right--and by then everyone forgot what was said.

as stated previously very few problems have anything to do with money. money is just a cheap excuse for being incompetent. allocation and prioritizing of resources takes brains and skill. qualities that most politicians lack.

there has always been enough money for virtually every government agency. but faced with poor decision making they opt for new taxes or suggestions like these:

"No one wants to spend tax dollars on interstate highways and bridges? So how do we fix this?

How about an excise tax paid on goods transported across our interstate system, and the military can pony up funds to make sure the bridges and roads can accommodate their vehicles, and the rest of us pay a toll when we use the interstate system."

a perfect example of continued poor decision making.

how about this for a solution. spend the f'king money on the things that the original taxes were collected for.

Posted by PalmettoTiger | September 14, 2007 1:30 AM

There are earmarks and there are earmarks. A quick and generalized example of the difference would be that a state is slated to receive $500M in highway funding. The bill may earmark part of those funds for specific projects.

"Out of all this cash, we want you to allocate $25M to replacing this bridge."

The other sorts of earmarks, what tend to make people the most upset, are the ones usually attached which add to a bill - sometimes really stretching the limits of being germaine.

Funds bike paths or other alternate tranportation are included in the last highway bill (SAFETEA) which you can read about here: They get lumped under "enhancements" or "alternative transportation."


Posted by Casey Tompkins | September 14, 2007 2:45 AM

Hoystory: I ocasionally confuse the British definition of "tabling" a motion with the American definition; they are opposite. :)

...So 82 senators voted to table Coburn's amendment; in effect killing it.

Got it, now. Alas, both senators from Ohio (one donk and one derm) voted "Yea." Bastiches.

Thanks much, Hoystory!

Posted by Cousin Dave | September 14, 2007 9:00 AM

Al, I think the real point is not the bike path per se, but the process by which it got funded (assuming it was funded via earmarks). Just because the process occasionally gets lucky and achieves a good result, that does not make it a good process. There are better, more transparent ways to get funding for bike paths. For a group of people hell-bent in imposing process after process on the American people, Congress is remarkably cavalier about process when it comes to themselves.

Let me toss out another example of something I know a little about. Today, approximately 1/3 of NASA's budget is earmarked. Because of these earmarks, both unmanned and manned exploration are getting squeezed, and aviation research is nearly dead. Some of the earmarks are for things like science education, which is arguably within NASA's charter, but a lot of them are for things having nothing to do with space or science at all. (Reasonable people can debate as to whether space exploration is something the government should be doing. However, as long as the government has committed funds to doing it, it should, you know, actually do it.) And even for the eduation things, NASA already has an education budget and processes in place to vet programs and fund the ones that achieve the best results. But the earmarks bypass all that, and the result is that a lot of the earmarked money is spent on programs that are either ineffective or just downright fraudulent.

Remember Triana? Al Gore's proposed orbital monument to himself? That was all funded via earmarks. It bypassed all of NASA's science evaluation committees who normally weed out exploration and science programs to fund only the best. The Triana system was an enormous expense for very little science return. Over $400M of taxpayer money went into that boondoggle. NASA tried to make lemonade by attaching some science payloads to it, and a few good experiments (that wound up flying on other platforms) got funded. But the ratio of money spent effectively to total expenditures was probably about 5%. And I suspect that most other earmarked programs achieve similar.

That's the really big beef with earmarks. It's a terribly, horribly inefficient way to spend the taxpayer's money.

Posted by Sam | September 15, 2007 3:53 AM

Frankly, mile for mile, the two biggest wastes of transportation funding are rail-based mass transit, and bike paths. And both for the same reason: they are under utilized versus the resources required for construction.

Bike paths are my pet peeve: here in beautiful Ventura Co., California, most of them are used as on street parking.

Rail: now that's just inconvenient.

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