Alex Massie

Memo to British readers; if you thought MPs were bad, try members of Congress...

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To the extent that the United States Congress has abandoned any pretense of honouring the idea of fiscal restraint, it should be said that earmarks - or pork barrel spending - is a tiny problem when set beside the Pentagon's budget and future spending commitments on entitlements. Still, earmarks are what folk like to huff and puff about, allowing everyone to seem as though they're highly-principled, moral beings determined to crack-down on wasteful government spending. Of course, they're really just tinkering at the edges.

So there's a certain chutzpah involved when George W Bush vetoes any spending bill. On the other hand, this sort of bill actually should be vetoed and the members of Congress responsible pilloried. To wit, as the New York Times reports, "namesake" pork projects remain as popular as ever:

Buried deep in the largest domestic spending bill of the year is money for a library and museum honoring first ladies. The $130,000 was requested by the local congressman, Representative Ralph Regula, Republican of Ohio. The library was founded by his wife, Mary A. Regula. The director of the library is his daughter, Martha A. Regula... 

Mr. Regula, the dean of the Ohio delegation, with 35 years in Congress, said the library “tells the story of first ladies and the contributions they have made to the nation.” More generally, he said, “I don’t have one earmark in any bill that I am not prepared to go to the mat on and defend to the taxpayer.”...

“Earmarks are not an abuse,” Mr. Regula said, unless they are part of a quid pro quo.

That's good, but perhaps not quite so fine as this:

The Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York, named for the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee... Mr. Rangel, a New York Democrat, obtained $2 million to establish the public service center that is named for him and that will “prepare individuals for careers in public service.” A college spokesman said the center would include an office for Mr. Rangel and a library for his papers and memorabilia.

Representative John Campbell, Republican of California, said Mr. Rangel should be ashamed of using tax dollars to build “a monument to himself.”

But Mr. Rangel, who took office in 1971, brushed aside the criticism. “I would have a problem if you did it,” he told Mr. Campbell, “because I don’t think that you’ve been around long enough to inspire a building like this.”


Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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