Who sponsors pork?

Specifically, I’ve been hearing a load of outrage over the Senate attaching pork-barrel funding to the bailout bill, but all the outraged news commentary I’ve heard so far describes it like it was just dropped in by an unknown and unknowable cosmic source. It seems to me that, though, that each pork project was proposed by a specific legislator to benefit a specific state or area of the country, and it should be the easiest thing to describe explicitly: “Senator Soandso from SuchandSuch State sponsored the Pork-Barrel project to study the nutritional benefits of a starvation diet.” Result? People outraged by pork projects across the country contribute to Soandso’s opponent, he gets tagged Senator Pork, etc, etc.

But instead, the commenators (mostly I’ve been listening to Joe Scarborough this morning) attack the general practice while scrupulously keeping the sponsors’ names out of the news. Why is that?

Such tagging hasn’t seemed to hurt the careers of people like Theodore F. Stevens and Robert C. Byrd. And I’m not sure that it necessarily should.

These guys

Pork is sponsored by your senator or representative.

MY senator or representative sponsors vital public works projects.

Well, yes, there is certainly an upside to publicizing your name as a sponsor of pork. The voters in your own state, or district, will see how they benefit from your pork and will reward you, that’s true. But I guess I’m asking why people who oppose pork on principle who live outside your district don’;t seek to publicize your identity anyway. Certainly the reason couldn’t possibly be that Byrd will then be able to get re-elected, is it? Because Byrd has seen in office almost as long as there’s been a Senate, so where would the downside be?

I’m wondering why McCain doesn’t find a Democratic Senator opposed to pork on principle and make a deal whereby a bi-partisan group of “Senators opposed to Pork” will speak out against porkers of their respective parties, denounce them, forego any pork-barrel projects of their own, refuse to vote for pork projects from their own party, etc.? This would be genuine maverick behavior, call porkbarrel legislation into question, end it once and for all.

The larger issue I suppose is: Is pork barrel spending all that bad? If not, then people denouncing it are just grandstanding, and THEY should be denounced. I have no dog in this fight. I know very little about the virtues and vices of pork, other than that it seems like a backdoor way of getting useless boondoggles that benefit few people outside of legislators’ careers passed into law, but I’m willing to listen to someone who’d like to defend it. But just now, I’m just wondering why the names of those who propose such legislation is so tightly guarded. Why is it “Idiotic Bill passed into law!!!” instead of “Soandso’s idiotic bill passed!!!” I don’t get that.

As kunilou says, one region’s pork is another region’s essential project.

A public library in a faraway state? Totally pork.

A study of traffic patterns in my neighborhood? Valuable and necessary.

Pork is in the eye of the beholder. Which sounds totally dirty. But you know what I mean.

How can you oppose pork on principle? “Pork” is just an epithet for “spending I don’t like.” Every district has legitimate funding needs.

I guess I’m referring to attachments that have little or nothing to do with the bill under consideration, not the purpose or function of the attachments. If you’ve attached a bill praising cute little baby kitty-cats to a military appropriations bill, I’m calling that “pork.” If you want to pass it as a bill on its own, and not use it in exchange for other Senators’ support for military appropriations that they otherwise oppose, then do so. Of course, some “pork” projects have merit–the ones that deserve support would get it, presumably, and those that make no sense wouldn’t.

Could the OP explain what pork in the bailout bill he is referring to? I’ve looked for news stories on it, but haven’t found anything.


  1. That’s not actually what “pork-barrel spending” has meant.

  2. It’s fairly an American tradition that legislation carry provisions that are unrelated to the main purpose of the bill. Pointing that out and calling it “pork” doesn’t make any sense.

This has never been a rule in Congress.

Those appear to all be temporary tax cuts that expired in 2005. Since then, Congress has acted to extend those tax cuts for one additional year while also doing something called the Alternative Minimum Tax patch. (Basically, unless Congress passes a patch each year, 20,000,000 middle class Americans would be captured by the AMT and end up paying substantially more taxes).

So each of those “pork” items has been in law for several years. Now, there are new rules in Congress that are supposed to disclose who requested items, such as earmarked appropriations or limited tax benefits, that are inserted into legislation. However, based on my oh-so-brief research, that the tax extenders in the economic stimulus bill do not look like the product of a congressman or senator specifically asking for that tax benefit to be included; instead, it looks like the Ways & Means and Finance Committees have been taking all the expiring tax benefits and continuing them en bloc. Those proposals were then taken as a whole and added to the bailout bill.

Double post

Well, maybe I just don’t get what McCain is talking about when he objects so vehemently to “pork” and “earmarks.” Do these two terms overlap in any way? It seems McCain uses them interchangibly, or maybe I’m not clear on when he’s complaining about one and the other. I thought he was saying, in essence, that the “American tradition” you speak about is exactly what is wasteful, selfish, greedy, un-Patriotic, etc. I’m certainly no McCain fan, but this is one of the changes he describes that makes a lot of sense to me, though I’m suspicious that it may not be such a big boondoggle, and might be as you say a necessary and un-eradicable part of the legislative process. But common sense requires that kitty-cats and military spending be considered separately on their merits, and not require funding for the one to get the other properly funded.

“Pork” and “earmarks” both refer to spending (or tax benefits) inserted at the request of a member of Congress primarily to benefit his constituents. “Pork” is a pejorative term, “earmark” is not.

What you’re thinking of is sometimes termed a “rider,” in which unrelated provisions are amended to a bill. The ability to offer amendments that do not relate to the bill’s purpose is actually something protected by the Senate rules (senators may offer an amendment on any topic, with just a couple of exceptions due to parliamentary situations), but in the House it is generally prohibited.

The reason riders are frequently used is that the chairman of the committee which deals with the wildly popular kitty cat issue may be opposed to the measure, and the only way to move the legislation forward in spite of the chairman’s objection is to offer the kitty cat bill as an amendment to another, unrelated bill. If non-germane (i.e., unrelated) amendments were prohibited completely, the leadership of Congress and committee chairmen would have considerably more power to stop legislation that they oppose, but would otherwise pass. Two sides to every coin, huh?

Thing is, even if they were in separate bills, in the end it’s the same Congress deciding both, and quid-pro-quo compromises would be bound to happen.

A bill/rider providing a grant to people who praise cute little kitty cats is pork. A rider praising kitty cats is not pork. Spending is an essential element of pork.

Yes, and even more specifically –

An “earmark” is a statement that says “This is exactly what this money is being appropriated for and nothing else.” It is an essential tool for the legislature to prevent the executive from doing any old damn thing with appropriated money.

OK, I took a little rhetorical liberty defining “pork” as a bill praising kitty-cats–let’s say a bill supporting a long-range study of cuteness in kitty-cats, okay? That’s pork.

Yes, but I could then see that if my congressman voted for such a stupid stand-alone bill, I could argue against it, and he couldn’t just answer, “I traded my vote on this so that you could get something else.” I could say “Fuck that, I’m talking about this stupid waste of money here–don’t go blaming something else that may or may have not happened like you say it did. I want to you to stand by your every vote, not make it impossible to see what you supported and what you didn’t. I hate kitty-cats, dammit, and I don’t want you supporting them at all, okay?” This pracitce allows them to obscure the dealing they do–I want to be able to judge what they do as an informed member of the voting public, and I don’t think we should all need a Ph. D. in poli sci to understand what congress is voting on. This is arrant bullshit, to me, and I can’t see defending it as anything other than an expedient method of keeping the public in the dark.

Most people who do have PhDs in poli sci don’t understand a lot of what Congress is voting on. For that matter, neither do most Congressmen.

That’s why Congress requires so much support staff- Senator X will have aide Billy for women’s issues except reproductive rights, Erica for reproductive rights, Joe for African-American issues, Steve for nuclear proliferation (if he’s on the defense committee), Sally for environmental economics, Sarah for environmental politics…