Lipstick, But Not Much Pig

Ken AshfordEconomy & Jobs & DeficitLeave a Comment

Steve Benen wrote the post I would write if I had more time:

I don't doubt for a moment that there were probably some wasteful spending projects in the stimulus package. Likewise, it seems plausible that there's some "pork" in the omnibus spending bill, too.

But have you noticed how difficult it's been for conservatives to come up with real, credible examples? Given all the spending involved, it should be a lot easier.

The list of failed examples is getting rather long. Disney-to-Vegas HSR? Doesn't exist. The gang tattoo-removal program? Money well spent. Marsh-mouse preservation? Doesn't exist. Disaster insurance to livestock producers? A sound investment. Volcano monitoring? Seems like a pretty good idea.

John McCain also blasted "$1 million for Mormon cricket control in Utah." Matt Yglesias, without the benefit of a Senate office staff, spent a few minutes on Google and discovered that Mormon crickets are reaching high levels in Utah, and destroying large areas of alfalfa fields. Given the impact on the area and industry, "$1 million for Mormon cricket control in Utah" doesn't sound especially wasteful.

McCain also condemned "$951,500 for the Oregon Solar Highway" as #1 on his list of the "porkiest" projects in the omnibus bill. Again, this hardly sounds like an outrageous expenditure.

The Oregon Solar Highway is "the nation's first solar panel project on a major U.S. highway," which seeks to use a row of solar panels about five feet wide and two football fields long to feed electricity directly into Portland General Electric's systemwide grid. It is meant to "account for 28 percent of the energy needed to power lights that illuminate the highway's sweeping interchange at night."

A pilot program for no-emissions alternative energy on a federal highway, costing less than $1 million, is the single most offensive "pork" project in a spending bill? In some ways, doesn't that prove the opposite of McCain's point?

To me — and I don't think I am alone on this — a "pork" project is one that provides no social utility at all, like the famed "bridge to nowhere".  Reasonable people can disagree as to whether the projects listed above are worthwhile or not, but they are all arguably worthwhile.  Reasonable people can also quibble about the amount spent on each of these projects, the extent to which they will (or won't) provide jobs, and other tangetial matters.  But to label those projects as "wasteful pork" is to close one's mind to the potential benefits they provide.

It should also be noted that Republicans claim there is 7.7 billion in pork.  The entire stimulus package is almost 900 billion.  So, even by their estimates, less than 1% of the stimulus bill is "pork".  That's their idea of "loaded with pork".  And (as Benen notes) much of that 1% isn't necessarily pork at all.

UPDATE:  $1.7 million for a pig-odor study in Iowa?  Now that's pork, some would say.  Ha ha ha.  But to the people in Iowa, it's no joke.  North Carolina knows this, too: it's not just a problem of smell — it's an environmental issue, too.