The Audacity of Pork

Charles Krauthammer isn’t impressed with the stimulus package, nor the way it’s being rushed through Congress:

…more damaging to Obama’s image than all the hypocrisies in the appointment process is his signature bill: the stimulus package. He inexplicably delegated the writing to Nancy Pelosi and the barons of the House. The product, which inevitably carries Obama’s name, was not just bad, not just flawed, but a legislative abomination.
It’s not just pages and pages of special-interest tax breaks, giveaways and protections, one of which would set off a ruinous Smoot-Hawley trade war. It’s not just the waste, such as the $88.6 million for new construction for Milwaukee Public Schools, which, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, have shrinking enrollment, 15 vacant schools and, quite logically, no plans for new construction.
It’s the essential fraud of rushing through a bill in which the normal rules (committee hearings, finding revenue to pay for the programs) are suspended on the grounds that a national emergency requires an immediate job-creating stimulus — and then throwing into it hundreds of billions that have nothing to do with stimulus, that Congress’s own budget office says won’t be spent until 2011 and beyond, and that are little more than the back-scratching, special-interest, lobby-driven parochialism that Obama came to Washington to abolish. He said.
Not just to abolish but to create something new — a new politics where the moneyed pork-barreling and corrupt logrolling of the past would give way to a bottom-up, grass-roots participatory democracy. That is what made Obama so dazzling and new. Turns out the “fierce urgency of now” includes $150 million for livestock (and honeybee and farm-raised fish) insurance.

Damian P.
Update: much more here. Good thing the United States has a conservative opposition party with real credibility on this issue, since it did such a great job keeping spending under control last time it was power, isn’t it?
Update II:


(via The Volokh Conspiracy)

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17 thoughts on “The Audacity of Pork

  1. I’ve seen a number of criticisms like this of the US stimulus package, and while the individual points are fair, as an overall criticism of the bill they seem odd. The two worst examples he can find in this >$800b bill to rag on are $238 million on two admittedly (if his facts are correct) ill concieved projects? Really?
    Obviously, if he’s right, those projects should be stricken, but this amounts to 0.03% – three parts in ten thousand — of the bill. Has there ever been any spending bill passed through the US congress which contains less pork than 0.03%? Let’s be generous and say that Krauthammer understated the pork, and let’s give him another factor of *30* in spending. That still adds up to 1%. Any bill which is 99% good should be passed as a matter of course, yes?

  2. “Any bill which is 99% good should be passed as a matter of course, yes?”
    Huh? Only 25% of spending in this bill can be done this year, so 3/4 doesn’t even qualify as stimulus. Even dopey Obama said the bill was mostly for long-term spending.
    Soooooo, why can’t the Dems pass a stimulus bill and then leave the rest to proper debate over the next few months?
    Why? Because the bill is a cover for a wet dream of government expansion. Even the CBO says the cost of the bill outweighs the cost of doing absolutely nothing.
    Fortunately most Americans can still recognize a monstrous lurch into the abyss and support for the bill is cratering. Obama was a nice symbol but he is in way over his head, as any community organizer would be if suddenly thrust into the presidency.

  3. “It’s too bad this Krauthammer guy didn’t have the opportunity to raise these exact concerns about the bank bailout.”
    Because there’s no difference between an immediate infusion of cash to prevent the financial markets from collapsing, as a result of government mismanagement of the residential mortgage market, and “emergency stimulus” pork, that won’t be spent for years, in a bill the non-partisan Congressonal Budget Office says will actually reduce U.S. GDP over the long run.

  4. Chip said:
    Obama was a nice symbol but he is in way over his head, as any community organizer would be if suddenly thrust into the presidency.
    Wow. I didn’t know Sarah Palin anonymously posted comments here. I’m truly impressed.

  5. There’s a broader problem here about bills being passed in legislative bodies. With huge bills like this, it’s easy to sneak in stupid little things which make no sense but no one wants to scrap the whole bill to vote down that one (or few) provisions. This is much worse in the US than in Canada, where one can introduce ammendments wholely unrelated to the bill itself.
    (If one’s interested in good governance, it’s hard to see an upside to that.)
    It would be nice if when an entire bill came to Parliament or committee, the bill could pass or fail, but *also* each individual provision in the bill was voted on seperately. The bill itself could pass, but not every provision in it.
    This would be especially useful in Canada’s likely situation for the next several years with minority governments. Opposition parties could vote down controversial parts of a budget bill without voting down the entire bill and causing the government to fall. There’s probably a downside to this but I’m not sure what it would be.
    More directly on topic, most of the comments above are silly or just wrong. Take this:
    “Huh? Only 25% of spending in this bill can be done this year, so 3/4 doesn’t even qualify as stimulus. ”
    How does it not count as stimulus? I guess, if you believe that the current economic downturn will only last less than the financial year, I guess that makes sense. Also please note that in this `factoid’, year does not mean 2009, it measn the 2009-2009 financial year, which is, um, nearly over.
    Most of the rest of the above comments are even more completely wrong. The constant reference to the CBO, for instance, is `quoting’ a report which never existed ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/01/23/a-controversial-cbo-repor_n_160495.html ). The state of conservative `arguments’ gets worse and worse as time goes on.

  6. Well Bruce, the first difference is that there’s actually some explanation of where the stimulus money will go.
    The stimulus money also probably won’t lose 1/3 of it’s value the instant that it’s spent either like the $250 million in assets picked up in 2008.
    But other than that, it’s a rushed, vague stab at solving a big problem with no real discussion.

  7. “the first difference is that there’s actually some explanation of where the stimulus money will go.”
    TARP was specifically targeted until pressure from Congress and the new President decided it should be used for purposes other than shoring up insolvent financial institutions and increasing liquidity in the economy.
    “The stimulus money also probably won’t lose 1/3 of it’s value the instant that it’s spent either like the $250 million in assets picked up in 2008.”
    The assets had already lost their value. The institutions were insolvent and going under leading to a massive financial crisis. The government, which incidentally created the problem, would have lost far more money had it not intervened. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FDIC, etc. are all Federal guaranty programs.
    “it’s a rushed, vague stab at solving a big problem with no real discussion.”
    TARP was initially a targeted program aimed at a specific crisis. The current bill is largely pork. There is a difference.

  8. Bruce:
    “It’s too bad this Krauthammer guy didn’t have the opportunity to raise these exact concerns about the bank bailout.”
    Where did that come from? Krauthammer was all over Bush like a bad suit over TARP. Fiscal conservatives have been all over both Bush and Obama over the stupidity of the handling. There’s been no sudden change of policy here.
    What’s so offensive isn’t the blind ignorance of the comment. It’s the underlying LIE and the bigotry… “Jew” guy named Krauthammer. “Banks” getting taxpayer money. No raised “Concerns” until now. How fucking subtle.
    Some commenters define AFWOT, and that’s why I refuse to read their garbage. I frankly wish Damian would ban the useless, bigoted twerp. AHEM.

  9. Ran,
    Rereading my post it does occur to me that it is blatant antisemitism. Thanks for catching that one, my sanity was obviously getting the best of me and I missed it at the time.
    I guess when you refuse to read something and still yearn to talk about it, you have to do most of the reading between the lines, huh?
    I can provide the exact moment you went from engaging me to being a butthurt little snipe. It’s right at the bottom of this link when your pants fell down in front of the whole class.
    http://www.damianpenny.com/comments/display/11330
    Ban me? Welcome to the internet.

  10. “Most of the rest of the above comments are even more completely wrong.”
    Exaggerate much, Jonathan?
    There are only 5 comments “above” the one where you complained about how stupid everyone else is. One of the 5 comments is yours, while 2 of the others are from ideological brethren of yours.
    You need to learn to control your reflexive, hyper-partisan tendencies. Or, you could continue making a fool of yourself. Your choice…

  11. I am amazed by the banality of people attempting to justify this abomination.
    No one would buy anything from anyone telling you if you didn’t buy it today the offer would be gone tomorrow. We all know a snakeoil salesman when we see him, except for the leftwingnuts, who will never acknowledge reality.
    Of course you have to pass this NOW, I mean no one has read the bill which is twice the length of War and Peace. But we still get the BS.
    Money for ACORN, tax rebates for people who pay no taxes, billions to remodel the government’s office buildings (marble is needed you see for their royal majesties to function while the drones get to work in gopher holes). We shouldn’t object to the billions in welfare or paybavk to Hussein supporters.
    Nor should we mention this is more than the cost of WWII. Or that it represents a 150% increase of discretionary spending over last year. Or that evil Bush really was a piker compared to Dear Leader.
    The visceral resentments and envy of the leftwingnuts are on display here. Tax and spend, punish the enrgetic and industrious reward the lazy and indolent.
    But I do love this bill. It makes me long for the sanity and integrity of Carter and Clinton. No doubt that both these men are happy that Obama got elected too. Now neither can be accused of being the dullest or most dishonest presidents in America history.
    And I loved inflation and high unemployment. Does anyone think in a year it won’t be far worse. Anyone who looks at the hard figures like freight shipments can see what is happening. Obama is putting small businesses under attack. So in four years I look forward to the landslide against Obama. Satan could run and be elected if he weren’t a dhimmierat first draft choice.

  12. It’s a pretty sad reflection on the state of economic literacy in this country that there are actually people who believe this bill will help the economy. These trillion dollar deficits will provide a little pop followed by years of higher taxes, accelerating inflation, and a cratering dollar. The lenders in Asia will balk, interest rates will rise and people are going to really suffer, including us in Canada who have so benefited from the US economic dynamo.
    If the US is lucky they will end up like Japan, which pursued the same deficit-fueled stimulus, and now struggles with little growth and a debt-to-gdp ratio of 180%. If they are lucky, because the Japanese politicians strike me as a little savvier than the Obama-Pelosi-Reid axis of dumb.

  13. “…because the Japanese politicians strike me as a little savvier than the Obama-Pelosi-Reid axis of dumb.”
    I wouldn’t put any money on that proposition. I’m not defending the current Administration or Congresscritters by any means, but the Diet is no bastion of enlightened policy by any means.

  14. >How does it not count as stimulus?
    Right you are; but, when you expand that idea, you realize – as many have indeed already pointed out – that the volume and nature of public spending in any given developed nation is such that “stimulus” is constantly applied, well in excess of anything of which Keynes ever conceived. The natural state of national budgets is “stimulus”. Since we always have “stimulus” budgets, wouldn’t it be a really good idea to balance them? And shouldn’t that question have redoubled force when “the worst economic crisis in 70 years” has yet to reach high water marks for various measures which were only established as recently as the 1980s or 1970s?

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