One man's pork another man's project

Published 7:08 pm Wednesday, February 14, 2007

By By Steve Flowers
There has been a lot of Sunday morning quarterbacking among political pundits as to the reasons behind the national Democratic tidal wave that hit Washington in November's mid-term Congressional elections. The most obvious explanation is the backlash against George Bush's war in Iraq.
However in conjunction with the tragic blunder in loss of American lives is the staggering cost of the ill fated war. Experts have detected a huge abandonment by libertarian and economic conservative voters from the Republican ranks due to the cavalier deficit encumbered by the Republican Congress and President Bush. The gigantic U.S. budget debt created under the Bush administration is devastating and is a travesty which may be passed on to future generations. It also weakens us significantly in the world economy. It has made us a debtor nation and vulnerable to the Chinese and Saudi Arabians. Many American voters believe that government, like families, should live within their means.
The current administration's invasion and occupation of Iraq is the primary reason for the national debt. However, the previous Republican majority in Congress is not blameless. Congressional pork barreling is another culprit.
The Washington scandals involving Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham last year awakened a need for reform in this area of federal spending. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) has been a voice in the wilderness for years in calling for reform and reigning in of this plundering of tax dollars. McCain has tried in vain to stop the unbridled abuse of pork projects being inserted into the federal budget in the wee hours of the night behind closed doors by powerful members of the budget committees.
The Abramoff scandal has raised public awareness of the corrupting influence of the pork barrel. However, the problem will not easily be resolved because most voters respond positively to their member of Congress "bringing home the bacon."
Most of us shake our heads in disgust when outrageously parochial projects in Alaska or West Virginia are exposed. However, we cheer similar projects when they come home to Alabama. In fact, many Congressional staff jobs are created to keep voters informed of projects brought home by their Congressman.
We Alabamians need only to look in the mirror. We are recipients of pork. In fact, the King of Pork in Washington the past five years may very well be our own Senior Senator Richard Shelby. Shelby has been considered one of the major benefactors of federal pork projects. He has been chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. We have gotten our share of federal excess dollars the past few years because of Shelby. However, Shelby will have a harder time playing Santa Claus for Alabama because of the Democrats taking control of the Senate. It will be interesting to see if Shelby can save some of his pet projects for 2007 as the ranking minority member of appropriations instead of chairman. One of his "earmarks" left in limbo is $30 million for a new FBI forensics training center at the Army's Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville.
It is often said, especially in the halls of Congress, that one man's wasteful pork project is another man's critically important infrastructure need. This view and practice will not quickly disappear because most voters expect their Senator to bring home the bacon and Richard Shelby could care less what people in New York or California say about his pork largesse for Alabama. All he cares about is what Alabama voters say about him.
The 2008 Presidential Race is off to the fastest start ever with eight announced Democrats off and running and the same number of candidates vying for the Republican nomination. Even though the field is crowded the frontrunners are obvious on both sides. Polls show Hillary Clinton favored by 42 percent of Democrats and Barack Obama with 21 percent. None of the other six in the Democratic fold have double digit approval. It will be tough to derail Clinton. Obama has the only chance.
On the Republican side the same situation exists. It appears to be a two man race between Rudy Giuliani and the aforementioned John McCain. It is doubtful that Giuliani can survive the scrutiny of a Republican primary given his liberal position on social issues. Thus McCain is the favorite. McCain needs to trumpet his fiscal conservatism and try to hide or diffuse his support of George Bush and the Iraq war. This war appears to be the premier issue and Bush may carry McCain to defeat the same way he did a host of Republican Senators and Congressmen in November.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at <>.

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