Devil in the Details

DEFICIT HYPOCRITES, I

The classic definition of "pork barrel" is spending that members of Congress load onto bills to benefit their constituents. Now it has become the choice term in attacks on public spending of all kinds. And, with the summer 1994 debate over the crime bill, "pork" acquired racial overtones and took on the meaning of expenditures targeted at the inner city. Seizing upon examples such as midnight basketball, Republican opponents of the bill indiscriminately declared all urban social programs unkosher.

Do these cries of pork come from tight-fisted budget hawks? Hardly. Take a few items from a recent appropriations bill, the classic serving plate for political pork:

  • The incoming Republican chair of the Senate Budget Committee, Pete Domenici, who lambasted the crime bill for "excessive pork barrel spending," was able to secure a $3 million grant to the National Center for Genome Resources to help small businesses in New Mexico and a $250,000 grant to the city of Espanola, New Mexico. Domenici now says he wants to give the president the power to kill individual projects in spending bills. This might be a good place to start.
  • Senator Conrad Burns, who claimed that under the crime bill "drug felons are given a get-out-of-jail-free card, and when you pass go, you collect $200 in pork," won $500,000 for "an entity in Bozeman, Montana" to assist small businesses. No doubt Bozeman has some very special "entities."
  • Representative Harold Rogers charged that the crime bill "is overloaded with enormous, wasteful spending. It pays for programs to let kids play basketball at midnight, pays for babysitters for drug addicts, and teaches convicted murderers to dance . . . . This inner city spending program will leave rural America out in the cold." But it didn't stay out in the cold for long. In the same session, Rogers wrangled $1 million to continue a grant to Prestonburg, Kentucky, for the development of small businesses, $1 million for the same purpose in Hazard, Kentucky, and $1.25 million for a facility to develop small business in Whitesburg, Kentucky.

These programs are not all necessarily wasteful, just as all inner-city spending is not necessarily productive. The problem is that rural Republican legislators have succeeded in stigmatizing urban spending by conjuring up racially charged imagery. If they're looking for pork, they should start in their own backyards.

WE'RE BOOMING--BUT WE'RE STILL OPPRESSED

"Within the last five years cultural studies has become something of a boom industry . . . . Within universities and colleges, cultural studies programs are appearing with growing frequency in both traditional disciplinary departments and in new interdisciplinary units."--The Cultural Studies Times, Fall 1994, page one.

"Due to a serious lack of vision or something perhaps more insidious, there seems to be almost no room in the American system of higher education for what is called by its practitioners `Cultural Studies' . . . . This hybrid discipline, as I say, finds itself alternatively orphaned, disenfranchised, or begging in the streets because its difference is often construed by the status quo as radical, threatening, or just plain frivolous."--Same magazine, same issue, page five.

ANY WAY THE WIND BLOWS

Simon and Schuster is promoting Elizabeth Drew's book on the Clinton presidency as a withering indictment of the administration. It looks like yet another Washington journalist has concluded that President Clinton is a failure, right?

Not so fast. The Simon and Schuster catalogue, published over the summer, promised a book with a balanced evaluation of a president who, despite a few missteps, was growing into the office.

Since then, a deep undertow of hostility has eroded support for the president. On the airwaves and in the bookstores, anti-Clinton diatribes are prospering as never before. The press release accompanying the book reads like the American Spectator, trumpeting Clinton's problems in great detail. The state trooper scandal "almost ruined the White House Christmas," it reveals breathlessly. Now his successes only get passing mention. The title of the book was changed, too, from Finding His Voice to On the Edge.

THE RIGHTS OF MAN, PART II

"The Founding Fathers would be stunned that in 1994 two consenting adults can engage in any voluntary behavior, with constitutional protection, other than industry and commerce or owning private property."--Senator Phil Gramm, quoted with approval by George Will, the Boston Globe, September 30, 1994.

THE RIGHTS OF MAN, PART I

"Natural rights are those which appertain to man in right of his existence. Of this kind are all the intellectual rights, or rights of the mind, and also all of those rights of acting as an individual for his own comfort and happiness which are not injurious to the natural rights of others."--Thomas Paine

"Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right."--Thomas Jefferson

DEFICIT HYPOCRITES, II

You may have heard about Third Millenium, the Generation X lobby organized around the concern that the national debt represents a transfer of income from the young to the old by making taxpayers of the future pay for past spending. One could also argue, of course, that members of Third Millenium receive a transfer from the older generation--one that presumably they will be glad to repay. These include public assets--the physical infrastructure and other wealth the nation has built and the intangible wealth it has created through spending on research--not to mention their own primary and secondary education and other public costs associated with their upbringing.

This year, the group declared a generational jihad against health care reform. Since rising health care costs are now the central cause of higher federal spending, why would an anti-deficit organization oppose health care reform? Third Millenium discerned a threat in community rating, which has been integral to the Clinton plan and other reform proposals. Because they are less likely to get sick, young people currently pay less for health insurance than their elders. A pure community rating system would have equalized insurance rates, on the theory that insurance exists largely to spread risk. Not all reform plans actually proposed to equalize rates across age groups. Some allowed variations for age. But no matter. Third Millenium opposes any equalization of rates as "an inter-generational transfer."


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Aren't these defenders of the young forgetting something? Under all insurance, the healthy pay for the sick--a shocking fact, when you think about it. Of course, the healthy cannot count on staying healthy. That is why they want insurance. And the young can certainly not count on staying young. Under community rating, you pay more when you're 26 so you can afford insurance when you're 56. Of course, that involves looking ahead to the future--just the thing the Third Millenium claims it's all about.

-- Jonathan Chait

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