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Jim Worth Headshot

Skewering The Pig

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Lawmakers are locked in a battle over Pork futures.

Pet projects of lawmakers' in both halls of Congress, lovingly called pork, have long been derided as government waste. That is only partially true. There's more to pork than meets the eye.

Over the years, more and more earmarks have crept into spending bills and opponents of the practice scream each year about the caustic nature of the wasteful practice.

Tea Party electees have been vocal about eliminating or banning pork as a way to reduce the budget deficit. They've embarrassed the Republican establishment into joining them in the ban. In a recent statement, Mitch McConnell, who was against the ban, acquiesced and joined fellow Republicans in supporting a ban on all pork.

Republican leaders, especially those gifted at bringing home the bacon, were reluctant to agree to such a ban. But, unable to properly explain the benefit of earmarks, they bowed to the vociferous Tea Party members.

Earmarks have grown, under Mitch McConnell and the Republicans, from around 700 when they came into office in 1994, to more than 8,000 in 2005. They've climbed to $15.9 billion in the last fiscal year.

The truth of the matter is, not all pork is bad.

As described in The New York Times op-ed, "The Empty Earmarks Pledge," eliminating earmarks does little or nothing to reduce the deficit. In fact, most of the problems with bad earmarks have already been cleaned up over the last few years.

Earmarks have become more transparent and with just a little more effort the most egregious forms of pork could be eliminated and the good projects could be properly funded in all the states.

Nearly all earmarks are directed to good local and state projects that serve the people in most communities well. Many times they provide a neglected community service, fund improvements in the areas targeted, provide much needed help to projects unable to be funded locally, and provide employment. These projects are better identified by serving Representatives and Senators than by federal administrators.

Eliminating earmarks in their present form and moving the process to a federal agency would become cumbersome and counter-productive. It could exclude funding for worthy and much needed projects.

Changing the process will do nothing to reduce the deficit and may, in fact, add to it.

What is disturbing about the argument over pork is the idiocy that it clearly highlights -- so much time wasted in Congress on insignificant and unimportant issues while the country falls apart.

It also sheds light on the unpreparedness of the newly elected officials to tackle the "real" issues confronting them: jobs and unemployment, healthcare, the shrinking middle-class, wars, a systemically-challenged financial system, the housing crisis, a destructive Supreme Court, defaulting state and local governments, and our crumbling national infrastructure.

Using earmarks as an attempt at tackling the deficit is posturing and evidence that the 112th congress will be more challenging than the 111th.

Skewering the pig is merely a distraction; a diversion from real governance.

If this is what the new Tea Party electees are bringing to the party it's going to be a long two years -- for the country, and even more so for Conservative Republicans.