One man's pork is another's filet mignon

Published 4:26 pm Wednesday, March 28, 2001

U.S. Representative
One man's pork is another man's filet mignon, or at least that's the way the old saying goes. Frankly, I don't know who originated the saying but it's true.
It is also true you should be wary about jumping to conclusions before you know what you're talking about.  For example:
Last week, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) released to the media its "Pig Book."  
In it was a new report outlining the $300 million worth of "pork" that CAGW deems wasteful or inappropriate.
Many projects in Alabama made the list.  In fact, the state ranked 10th in the nation, not bad when you consider we often find ourselves near the bottom of most studies.
So the question arises, what is pork?
To someone at CAGW, a group begun in 1984 that describes itself as non-profit and non-partisan, pork is anything that:  
1) is not requested in the president's budget;
2) not the subject of congressional hearings; or
3) requested by only one chamber of Congress. 
There are a couple of problems with the CAGW report, however.  First of all, it is often factually inaccurate.  
Secondly, the fine folks at CAGW haven't even shown Congress, at least not my office, the courtesy of a copy of the report, much less asked for a face-to-face meeting to discuss these atrocities.  
Let me address the first point.  Last year, the city of Thomasville asked Senators Shelby, Sessions and me to help them get a regional water system funded.
If you've never been to Thomasville (as I'm quite sure is the case for every single person on the CAGW payroll), then you might not know that this town in the northern part of Clarke County has had serious water problems, both quantity and quality, for decades.  
In fact, the problem is so bad that Thomasville, with a population of 4,301 (according to the 1990 census), currently depends on its entire water supply from the town of Pine Hill, population 481.  Pine Hill is about 25 miles away in neighboring Wilcox County.  
And if the Pine Hill system goes down for 18-24 hours, Thomasville is totally out of water! Zip. Zero.
Now, let's say you're a prospective industry looking to expand into Alabama's Black Belt, a region that has among the highest unemployment statistics of any area in the country.
What might be one of your top needs to get your plant going?
In fact, when we met with Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day last year to discuss his request, he said they had lost one serious industrial prospect that would have employed up to 500 people simply because they needed 1,000,000 gallons of water per day.  
Thomasville, and many other communities like it, couldn't even   begin the negotiations.  They simply don't have an adequate water supply.
Ditto for the $3.6 million appropriation we got for the University of South Alabama to build a Gulf Coast Cancer Center and Research Institute.
Interestingly enough, the fine folks at CAGW don't seem interested in the fact that this is an area of more than 42 counties and over 2.5 million persons who currently have no access to a comprehensive, academic-level cancer center or research institute.  Nor do they seem interested in the fact that in these 42 counties, there is a substantially higher cancer death rate than for the nation as a whole.
You see, if the people at CAGW were truly interested in good government rather than good headlines, they would have asked to come in to meet with me and my colleagues in Congress to learn a little more about these and other similar projects.
But I've never had anyone from CAGW come to my office to discuss these issues, not in my 16 years in Congress.
And frankly, just because former President Bill Clinton did not mention these programs in his budget request last year, I'm not very disturbed.
During the last few years, Congress has turned deficit spending into record surpluses.  We've paid the national debt down by almost 1 trillion dollars. Our books are in the black, not drowning in a sea of red ink.
Is there wasteful spending at the federal level?  You bet.  Do we need to do more to rid it from our federal budget?  Absolutely.
But groups like Citizens Against Government Waste aren't genuinely interested in putting an end to wasteful spending.  They're simply looking to grab a good headline.  
My chief of staff was correct when he told a reporter from the Mobile Register last week, "it's a shame a good pine tree had to die to print this report."  That, my friends, was the waste in this report. 
Until next week, take care and God Bless.

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