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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Pork and Principles Fly As Congress Appropriates, Dances The D.C. Two-Step on Spending

Pork and principles take wing whenever the media's beloved "mainstream" and "moderate" Members of Congress - liberal Democrats and their moderate Republican first cousins - start dancing the D.C. Two-Step around an appropriations bill.

The pork heads to the Members' districts in the form of costly "earmarks" that send sacksful of greenbacks to pay for things like that $223 million "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska. The principles have a much shorter trip - they just fly out the window.

If you doubt me on this, take a look at what happened in the U.S. House of Representatives this past Thursday when the 2006 Labor-HHS-Education appropriation bill came up for a vote.

At the outset, it began to look like Congress was getting the message about too much pork barrel spending because late Wednesday night congressional negotiators for the House and Senate agreed on a $142 billion Labor-HHS-Education spending bill with no earmarks.

No bridges to nowhere. No rain forests for Iowa. No federal grants to build a new music conservatory in wealthy Westchester County, New York. A pork-free bill sounds like a great idea, right? Some senators and congressmen were upset that they didn't get their pet projects funded but it's time they learn to sacrifice a little like the rest of us taxpayers out in the real world.

Anyway, things looked great until the House brought the conference report on the bill with no pork barrel earmarks to the floor for a vote. There were 209 votes for the conference report, every one of them cast by a Republican.

But there were 224 votes against the conference report, including 201 Democrats, 22 moderate GOPers and Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist who votes with the Democrats. The no-pork bill went down to defeat, as Democrats and their GOP first cousins - aka "Republicans-in-name-only" - went woo-hoo on the House floor.

So where do we see the D.C. Two-Step in that vote? Take, for example, Rep. Michael Castle, the Delaware Republican who voted with the Democrats. His official web site lists one of his priorities as "deficit reduction." Wouldn't a no-pork spending bill be a step in the direction of deficit reduction?

That's the D.C. Two-Step - you promise constituents you will vote for deficit reduction, but when you get an obvious chance to do so, you go the other way. It's an easy dance, too, because no Washington or Delaware journalist is going to ask you a pointed question like: "Congressman Castle, why do say one thing on your web site but vote the other way?" And most constituents have short memories come election day.

Castle was far from alone Thursday. Go to Rep. Nancy Johnson's web site and you find that the Connecticut Republican "has worked successfully to cut taxes for Connecticut families and level the economic playing field so small businesses and manufacturers can compete in the global economy and create good jobs."

Again, the Washington and Connecticut media aren't likely to ask Johnson tough questions like how does her voting with Democrats against a pork-free appropriations bill help small businesses, manufacturers or families. So Johnson dances back to Congress for term after term.

Then there is Rep. Mark Kirk, R-IL, another of those 22 GOPers voting with the Democrats. Kirk's web site notes that he "is co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, the caucus of mainstream Republican Members of Congress. In that capacity, Mr. Kirk works to advance a suburban agenda that is pro-defense, pro-personal responsibility, pro-environment and pro-science."

By the way, "mainstream" and "moderate" are Washington Establishment and national media code words for "not a conservative" and "is a liberal."

So don't hold your breath waiting for a Washington or Illinois journalist to ask Kirk to explain exactly how science, defense, the environment or the suburbs benefit by his helping Democrats kill an appropriations bill without a bridge to nowhere? Or why he wasn't for setting a new precedent that all appropriations bills would have to be pork-free?

Like Castle and Johnson and so many others in Congress, Kirk keeps dancing the ole D.C. Two-Step to re-election after re-election.

RINOs like these three and indeed most current Members of Congress at one time or another get away year after year with the D.C. Two-Step because Congress has also rigged congressional elections so they have become essentially an Incumbent Protection System.

Remember the Contract with America back in 1994? It included term limits as the best way to insure a continuous flow into Congress of new blood, fresh thinking and recent experience in the real world. But the federal courts said terms limits are unconstitutional.

It's time for a term limits constitutional amendment.

UPDATE: Was Clinton's PNGV Pork Detroit's Bridge to Nowhere?

Remember the Clinton administration's Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles? That was the "government-industry partnership" that was going to help Detroit leap ahead of the Japanese and create clean, fuel efficient cars based on advanced new technologies like fuel cells.

Billions of tax dollars went into PNGV, but today Ford is announcing another round of job cuts as it desperately tries to figure out a strategy for survival and General Motors is the focus of intense speculation about its prospective bankruptcy.

Looks like Clinton's PNGV was Detroit's "Bridge to Nowhere." I have much more to say on these topics over at "Tapscott Behind the Wheel." Check it out here.

UPDATE II: 30,000 GM Jobs, Nine Factories Shut Down

Is this what we find at the end of the bridge?