Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ron Paul's personal pork projects.

Guaranteed 100% pork. The media has noted, though many libertarians have ignored, that the allegedly “libertarian” Republican, Ron Paul, has been bringing home the bacon to his district, just like every other vote-seeking politician. The PR hype is that Paul is different. Judge for yourself.

Paul says he only votes for spending authorized by the US Constitution. But when it comes to using his Congressional position, to request pork for projects in his own district, apparently anything goes. Whether the spending is Constitutionally legitimate, or no,t Paul brings home the bacon.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Paul:
...leads the Houston-area delegation in the number of earmarks, or special funding requests, that he is seeking for his district. He is trying to nab public money for 65 projects, such as marketing wild shrimp and renovating the old movie theater in Edna that closed in 1977 — neither of which is envisioned in the Constitution as an essential government function.

Paul’s arguments for using pork barrel projects in his own district is that, “if they take it, we should ask for it back.” Of course, on that basis, there is little spending which is not justified.

Paul also argued that these special earmarks, used by Congressman to increase their own popularity at home, don’t add anything to the budget. The funding is already in the budget he says and the budget is not increased to compensate for them. But spending $400 million on pork, as Paul requested, still means the $400 million is spent. And, under the current budget, if it is spent, it contributes to the deficit that will, no doubt, mean higher future taxes. While agencies try to spend their full budget so they can request more the next year. There is some slim chance that funding allocated will not be spent. Earmarking makes sure the funds are spent.

Even if one were to buy Paul’s argument, shouldn’t the earmarks, at the very least, correspond with Constitutionally permitted spending? Does Paul's dubious claim that the “people” are really spending the money, as opposed to politicians, mean the spending need not be constitutionally justified?

Certainly, the special interest groups that put in requests for such spending are not “the people”. And the idea that this removes spending authority from politicians is absurd. It means that the special interests have to go to a Congressman, with begging bowl in hand, asking for the handouts. Since the individual politicians is the gateway for such funding it expands his ability to buy votes with taxpayer funds.

Here is a list of some of the pork that Paul has applied for. It is apparent that much of this has nothing to do with programs permitted, or mandated, by the Constitution. You figure out what clause of the Constitution enumerates the spending in question. I’m not an expert on the workings of Congress but reading through the funding requests I am under the impression that Paul was seeking multiple funding for some of these projects. I don’t know if this is cumulative, but that is the impression I got. Either way asking for it once is bad enough.

1. $25,000 for the Brazoria County Sheriff to establish a “Children’s Identification and Location Database.”

2. $8 million for the marketing of wild American shrimp.

3. $2.3 million for shrimp fishing research.

4. $3 million to “secure the acquisition of the McGinnes tract, protecting its critical natural resources and helping consolidate refuge inholdings.”

5. $5 million to expand the cancer center at Brazosport Hospital.

6. $200,000 for the Matagorda Episcopal Health Outreach Program to fund a “National Health Service Corp Scholar.”

7. $4.5 million to study the effects of the health risks of vanadium.

8. $3 million to test imported shrimp for antibiotics. (Does anyone think there is a big shrimp industry in Paul’s district?)

9. $10 million to repair the Galveston railways causeway bridge.

10. $1.18 million for “Personalized Medicine in Asthma”

11. $100,000 for a “data-driven automated system for nursing students on the Texas Gulf Coast.”

12. $257,000 to “prepare graduates from the doctoral program at the University of Texas Medical Branch School of Nursing to assume faculty roles in schools for nursing with a deficient number of doctoral level faculty.”

13. $1.4 million to buy buses for the Golden Crescent Regional Commission.

14. $2 million to buy buses for Galveston.

15. $5 million for highway spending.

16. $2 million to replace facilities for Galveston bus service.

17. $3 million to replace facilities for the Golden Crescent Regional bus facility.

18. $2 million to repair the Galveston trolley.

19. $2.14 million to renovate the Edna Theater.

20. $13 million for I-69 highway project.

21. $30 million the Texas Maritime Academy to refurbish a ship.

22. $4.5 million to maintain Cedar Bayou. Plus another $9 million

23. $15 million for “construction at GIWW Matagorda Bay.” Plus another $5.8 million

24. $100,000 to maintain Chocolate Bayou.

25. $2.5 million to maintain Double Bayou.

I don’t really know much about the shrimp industry, but it is big in Texas, and it has been demanding that the federal government act to restrict imports in one way or another. One press release, by Paul’s office, states that the Congressman “joined several of his House colleagues urging action by the Commerce Department to protect the troubled domestic shrimp industry.” Paul said US companies “have been devastated by cheap imported shrimp” and he wants to end foreign aid to any nation that subsidizes shrimp. His “Shrimp Importation Fairness Act” was “to help level the playing field between the foreign and domestic shrimp industries.”

While I understand the anger of US shrimp companies over foreign competition (I wouldn’t mind being the only blog on the block) it is strange to condemn other countries for allegedly subsidizing their shrimp industries while putting in requests to subsidize the US shrimp industry. I’m opposed to government-to-government aid regardless of who receives it. Targeting the aid of only those nations, that have successful shrimp industries of their own, sounds more like back door protectionism, while the $13 million in earmarks to US shrimp producers sounds like front door pork.

Paul seems to be playing on both sides of the fence. He puts in the requests for the pork which becomes part of the budget. Then he votes against the appropriations bill. He knows that the vast majority of these spending bills will pass regardless of what he does. He can brag to shrimpers about the millions in subsidies which he earmarked for them, but he can also claim to have voted against the subsidies he guaranteed. It is one way to be all things to all people.

Not all politicians use earmarks. One can successfully hold office without resorting to such favor granting. John Boehner (R-OH), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Vito Fossella (R-NY), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), John Shadegg (R-AZ) and Lee Terry (R-NE), are confirmed as having not requested earmarks. And at least six Senators have eschewed the process as well.

It isn’t that Paul doesn’t make some valid points. Money that an agency would spend, as they wished, is directed by Congress to specific projects. But, here is the other side of the coin. There is spending which is constitutional and spending which isn’t. If funds are left in a general budget there is some chance, very slim perhaps, that it might be spent in a constitutional manner. But when Paul earmarks funding for unconstitutional projects he guarantees, without any question, that the spending will violate the constitution. What slim chance there is, that the spending might be constitutionally warranted, is snuffed out by the earmark. And I find that odd for an alleged “constitutionalist” to do.

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