'Democrats' accomplished something

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By John Barnhart

Last month, I wrote how the "Democrats" accomplished nothing during their first year in control of Congress. That's not entirely true. They managed to spend billions of dollars of our tax money through earmarks attached to important funding bills.

Earmarks aren't necessarily bad. They can allow a congressman to fund a valuable project in his state or district that he is personally aware of. They can also be utterly ridiculous. I understand the omnibus spending bill, rushed through Congress in the waning days of last month, contains a $213,000 earmark for Olive Fruit Fly research in France. I don't know who included this gem and, for all I know, Olive Fruit Flies may be a serious problem in France. If they are, it seems like French taxpayers, rather than U. S. taxpayers, ought to foot the bill for the research.

Funding fruit fly research in a foreign country is an extreme. More typical of earmarks is the $150,000 earmark to pay for beaver management and damage in Wisconsin or rodent control in Alaska. These creatures can cause problems and rodents can do some especially serious damage when they get themselves elected to Congress. However, these sort of expenditures ought to be in state or local budgets, rather than a federal expense.

Another example of a common earmark is a $100,000 earmark for a swimming pool in Ottawa, Kansas. They spend money taken from everybody's pocket to do a favor for one congressman's constituents. This one is fairly small, but some can have price tags in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Last month's omnibus spending bill was larded with about 10,000 earmarks that will cost us an estimated $7.5 billion.

The Transportation-HUD spending bill, passed in a less hurried manner last fall also contains a generous serving of earmark pork. Congressionally disclosed earmarks in that bill will cost us $1.6 billion. This includes things such as $400,000 to improve bike trails in Highland, Ind. I'm sure this will go far to improve transportation infrastructure in that state.

The "Democrat" controlled Congress also added $8 billion in earmarks to the 2008 Defense bill, passed late last fall. Some of these earmarks had nothing to do with national defense.

One serious problem with abusive earmarking is that it diverts funds that could have been used for more valuable projects. I'm sure those folks in Ottawa, Kan., could get along just fine without that swimming pool. That $100,000 and numerous others for projects of dubious value, some with much larger price tags, could have been bundled together to help pay for something that really ought to be done.

When the "Democrats" rolled into Congress a year ago, they promised that they would show fiscal responsibility. That promise turned out to be nothing but "Democratic" Party hypocrisy.

The donkeys (and the Republicans, too) need to take a realistic look at why voters gave so many Republican incumbents the boot back in 2006. Iraq, of course, was a factor, but it wasn't the only factor. One of the issues that disturbed many voters was the Republicans' abandonment of fiscal restraint. One aspect of this was the explosion of earmarks during their six years in control of both houses of Congress. In 2005, the peak year of the earmark tidal wave, Republicans padded the budget with 13,492 earmarks. Some, I'm sure went to worthy projects, but I'm also sure that most amounted to flushing tax dollars down a multitude of toilets.

John Maisto, a former U. S. ambassador to Venezuela, once advised our government to pay attention to what Hugo Chvez does, rather than what he says. It would be well if American voters apply the same advice to "Democrats" as campaigns get rolling this year. "Democratic" congressional leaders promised to spend responsibly. What they actually did was pick up the taxpayer financed pork-barrel spending spree where Republicans left off.