The More Things Change….by Doug Mataconis
If you thought that kicking out those unaccountable pork-barrel spending Republicans would teach anyone in Washington a lesson, you’d better think again:’
WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 — Senators Ted Stevens of Alaska and Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii are the best of friends in the Senate, so close they call each other brother. Both are decorated veterans of World War II. They have worked together for nearly four decades as senators from the two youngest and farthest-flung states. And they share an almost unrivaled appetite for what some call political pork.
Mr. Stevens, an 83-year-old Republican, and Mr. Inouye, an 82-year-old Democrat, routinely deliver to their states more money per capita in earmarks — the pet projects lawmakers insert into major spending bills — than any other state gets. This year, Alaska received $1.05 billion in earmarks, or $1,677.27 per resident, while Hawaii got $903.9 million, or $746.05 per resident, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan group that tracks such figures.
Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, and many Democratic candidates have railed for months against wasteful “special interest earmarks” inserted into bills “in the dark of night.” Now their party’s electoral victories mean that Mr. Stevens will hand Mr. Inouye the gavel of the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee, which presides over the largest pool of discretionary spending and earmarks. But if the Democratic leaders are talking about “earmark reform,” that may be news to Mr. Inouye.
“I don’t see any monumental changes,” Mr. Inouye said in a recent interview. He plans to continue his subcommittee’s approach to earmarks, he said. “If something is wrong we should clean house,” he said, “but if they can explain it and justify it, I will look at it.”
Call me cynical, but something tells me that it will be extra hard to justify any spending cut that impacts either Alaska or Hawaii in Chairman Inouye’s eyes. What is clear, though (and should have been clear to anyone who remembers American politics prior to 1993), is that the Democrats are no more committed to eliminating pork than their Republican counterparts were:
“What is good for the goose is good for the gander,” Senator Patty Murray, the Washington Democrat who is set to become chairwoman of the transportation subcommittee, said last fall in a speech defending an Alaska Republican’s allocation of more than $200 million in federal money for a bridge to remote Gravina, Alaska, population 50. It became notorious as the “Bridge to Nowhere.”
“I tell my colleagues, if we start cutting funding for individual projects, your project may be next,” Ms. Murray warned. To anyone who might vote against the bridge, Ms. Murray threatened that her subcommittee would be “taking a long, serious look at their projects.” Every Democrat on the Appropriations Committee voted against an amendment to strike the bridge, and after threats from Ms. Murray and Mr. Stevens, only 15 senators voted for the amendment. The bridge’s future is unclear.
Actually, the future seems all to clear to me.