Archives: 09/2009

Pork Politics

Last night I received a press release from the National Republican Senatorial Committee entitled “Lincoln Votes to Protect Millions in Taxpayer Funds for Little-Used Pennsylvania Airport.”  Lincoln would be Arkansas Democrat Senator Blanche Lincoln.  According to the NRSC press release:

In a remarkable vote on the Senate floor this afternoon, U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) made clear that despite rising federal deficits and a record national debt, she still stands firmly on the side of more wasteful Washington spending.  Lincoln today helped defeat an amendment, offered by U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), to the annual transportation appropriations bill that would end taxpayer subsidies for the John Murtha Airport, a little used 650-acre facility in Johnstown, Pennsylvania that has received at least $200 million in taxpayer funding.  U.S. Congressman John Murtha (D-PA), who the airport was named after and who has been the subject of a number of ethics-related stories in recent months, has personally directed $150 million in federal funds to the facility even though it only has 3 flights daily to one destination: Washington, D.C.

When I went to the NRSC’s website I noticed similar press releases for other Democrat senators who I’m assuming are on the outfit’s election hit-list.  Having never received an NRSC press release before, I’m assuming I received this one because I ripped Senator Lincoln in a blog post last week.  If that’s the case, I’m impressed with the NRSC’s resourcefulness.  Regardless, it made me curious to find out if any Republican senators voted with Lincoln and the other Democrats.

In fact, yes, two Republicans did vote to keep the federal money flowing to Murtha’s airport:  George Voinovich of Ohio and Christopher “Kit” Bond of Missouri.  Both are members of the third party in Congress: Appropriators.  Given that he is the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, it’s not a surprise that Bond voted against an amendment unfriendly to a larded-up transportation appropriations bill.  Both are retiring at the end of their terms in 2010, so the NRSC apparently wasn’t too worried about charges of hypocrisy.

With the exception of the aforementioned, all Republican senators voted for the amendment, including appropriators like Murkowski, Collins, Cochran, and Bennett.  None of those folks are exactly known as fiscal tightwads.  So what gives?  Will these senators be headlining tea parties in the near future?

The truth is it’s just politics.  The Republicans are in the minority and got kicked out of the majority by voters due in part to years of fiscal profligacy.  I’m sure more than a few believed this was the type of vote that will help them curry favor with the growing swarms of voters upset with Washington’s out-of-control spending.  It probably helps a smidgen (sarcasm intended) that the airport in question is located in Pennsylvania, home to two Democrat senators, one of which is recent Republican defector Arlen Specter.  Oh, and it’s Democrat John Murtha’s airport.

I’m wondering where these Republican votes to eliminate pork were when I was working with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) several years ago to kill funding for the Bridge to Nowhere and other assorted congressional slop.  At the time, Republicans were in the Senate majority. For example, on the Bridge to Nowhere vote, our amendment went down 15-82.  Only 11 Republicans supported the amendment.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m pleased to see almost all Republicans (and five Democrats) vote to stop funding Murtha’s airport.  But their votes were driven by political considerations and not a new-found zeal for reigning in federal spending.  And let’s face it, defunding the Murtha airport is merely symbolic given that it would save peanuts.  So let’s see what happens on a vote to strip funding for the entire transportation program that subsidizes the other small airports in this country, many of which probably wouldn’t exist were it not for the federal cheese.  Of course, someone would have to actually introduce such an amendment first.  Senator Coburn or DeMint?

Weekend Links

  • Is public option a private insurer killer? Larry McNeely and Michael Cannon debate.
  • Podcast: Should the government have the power to punish you for speaking your mind? Many Americans think it should…so long as it’s people with whom they don’t agree.

Cheye Calvo Reflects on SWAT Shooting

Cheye Calvo is the DC-area small-town mayor who had his two pet dogs shot and killed by a botched drug raid about a year ago.  In an article to be published in this Sunday’s Washington Post, Calvo reflects upon his experience – not just the raid itself, but on the actions of the police department afterward.  Excerpt:

I remain captured by the broader implications of the incident. Namely, that my initial take was wrong: It was no accident but rather business as usual that brought the police to – and through – our front door.

In the words of Prince George’s County Sheriff Michael Jackson, whose deputies carried out the assault, “the guys did what they were supposed to do” – acknowledging, almost as an afterthought, that terrorizing innocent citizens in Prince George’s [County] is standard fare. The only difference this time seems to be that the victim was a clean-cut white mayor with community support, resources, and a story to tell the media.

What confounds me is the unmitigated refusal of county leaders to challenge law enforcement and to demand better – as if civil rights are somehow rendered secondary by the war on drugs.

Mr. Calvo has been a super advocate for reform – he has given up countless hours of his spare time to study and speak on this subject so that fewer people will be victimized the same way his family was.  He spoke at a Cato Hill Briefing over the summer.

Calvo told his story at Cato last year.

For related Cato research, go here and here.

And to Think: Senators Once Worked For Legislatures

S. 1536, the “ALERT Drivers” Act (“Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting by Drivers” – get it?) would reduce federal highway funds available to states if they don’t pass laws prohibiting people from writing, sending, or reading text messages while driving.

The circle is complete. Senators, who were once chosen by state legislatures, now believe it is their role to tell state legislatures what to do.

Federal command over our lives, in ever more intricate detail. It’s the product of exalting democracy – in this case, direct election of senators – over liberty and over the governmental structure originally established in the constitution.

Texting while driving is dangerous to your health and others’. Letting governments amass power is dangerous to your freedom, and ultimately your health (this way, for example, and this way and this way).

It’s Friday — What Bad News Will Be Released Late Tonight?

President Obama promised to change the way things are done in Washington, but his administration has mastered one old Washington trick: releasing bad news late on Friday, or even on Saturday night of a long weekend, in the hope that journalists won’t have much chance to ask questions or get into the next day’s papers. Consider:

  • The nation would be forced to borrow more than $9 trillion over the next decade under President Obama’s policies, the White House acknowledged late Friday.
    Washington Post, Saturday, August 22
  • White House environmental adviser Van Jones resigned late Saturday after weeks of pressure from the right over his past activism. “On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me,” Jones, special adviser for green jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in a statement announcing his resignation just after midnight Saturday.
    Washington Post, Sunday, September 6, 2009
  • The White House late Friday announced it would impose high tariffs on imports of Chinese tires in a case seen as the first test of trade policy under President Barack Obama… The announcement was made in a release sent out by the White House press office at about 9:30 p.m. Friday night, a time when news is sometimes “dumped” in the hope it will attract less attention.
    TheHill.com, 10:56 p.m., Friday, September 11, 2009

So what will it be tonight? A late-night tax increase? The resignation of another administration appointee who didn’t pay his own taxes? More troops for Iraq?

Indiana Voter ID Law Struck Down

Constitutional rules often comport with common sense. The Fourth Amendment’s search and seizure clause — so burdensome to law enforcement, some argue — requires officials to look for evidence of crime where they think they’ll find it and not elsewhere. Common sense.

So it is with an Indiana Court of Appeals ruling that the state’s voter ID law violates the equal protection clause of the state’s constitution. The law requires in-person voters to show ID, but makes no attempt to verify the identities of absentee voters. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law against a recent challenge, but the Indiana court struck it down based on a broader protection in the state constitution’s equal protection clause.

Think what you will on the legal merits. (I generally appreciate courts breathing independent life into their state constitutions.) What is interesting here is that the result is imbued with constitutional common sense.

Requiring ID at polling stations would have a marginal effect on vote fraud because it makes it harder to impersonate a voter or manufacture a vote-qualified identity. But the risk of in-person voter fraud is very low compared to absentee ballot fraud, which the Indiana law did not touch. The Indiana voter ID law was tantamount to caulking windows to keep out the cold but leaving the front door open. Because of the disproportionate effect on different classes of voters, the court struck it down.

Voter fraud will continue to be a hot issue, and states should continue to tune the balances they strike between voter access and vote integrity. My concern is that the issue might boil over and produce national ID proposals, as we have seen in the past.