Pork barrel legislations is a daily occurrence in American government. Howard Scarrow showcases this in his May 6th column in The Village Times Herald, “Our bacon, their park.” His example of the recently proposed highway bill is a blatant exposure of pork barrel legislation. He indicates many causes of this distributive politics that would lead to legislation such as the highway bill. Pork barrel legislation allows for a congressman to appeal to his constituents by adding on seemingly small projects that would benefit his district, to a larger bill. This small portion of the legislation is usually overlooked and passed along with the main part of the bill. In a way distributive politics is a sneaky way for congressmen to “bring home the bacon” for their constituents.
It is quite obvious why congressmen take part in distributive politics. Why does a representative do anything while in office, mainly to get reelected. Especially in the House of Representatives where a term of office is only two years, representatives are working hard to make their constituents happy for the next election. Scarrow proves this point with the highway bill. Tim Bishop added to the bill forty-five million dollars in project money for his district. Five million of those dollars going to the construction of a Greenway Trail stretching form East Setauket to Port Jefferson Station. Tim Bishop was well aware that his park barrel projects were only some of 3200 separate projects added onto the highway bill, This “raid” on the public treasury was going to cost taxpayers upwards of ten billion dollars and made no effort to help with the deficit problem. Why do congressmen allow such spending? Why do they allow the national budget to have a four hundred and seventy-eight billion dollar deficit that will only and to America’s seven trillion dollar debt? The answer is simple: they want to be reelected. If Tim Bishop refused to take part in a bill that only increased America’s debt his district and his constituents would therefore get nothing; and come reelection time voters would remember that they had received nothing form his time in office. Pork barrel legislation is a way for congressmen to show their voters what great projects they can get funded and use those programs to get reelected.
Distributive politics has flourished in American government because of legislative processes in Congress. Pet projects like those in the highway bill are possible in American government. James Madison said that America did not need to worry about factions because in such a large country there would be so many factions that they would cancel each other out. What Madison did not anticipate was that these factions would work together to further their own agendas. A sort of “I’ll vote for your part of the bill if you vote for mine.” Passing legislation is such a long and complicated process that can be simplified if the bill just passes. So if every congressmen has a part of the bill that benefits his district, the bill will be easier to pass.
Committees are put together so that the work in congress can be split up. This results in many bills being passed strictly based on pork barrel issues. No one opposes anything because to rework a bill is too much work. And why vote down a bill when your district will benefit from it being passed.
The consequences of federal pork barreling are today’s public opinions of Congress. Voters express a sixty percent approval rating of their own personal representatives. However, voters opinion of Congress as a whole is only a forty percent approval rating. Constituents believe that the incumbent congressmen of their state are doing a very good job, and why wouldn’t they? With all of the “pork barrel” items being brought back to the district, it’s hard not to applaud incumbent representatives. The public, on the other hand, thinks of congress and congressmen in general as untrustworthy, and sneaky; putting their own personal good before the good of the whole country.
Pork barrel legislation will continue in America because districts and constituents are getting the things that they want, and no one, especially not an American, is going to give up something that is working out well for them self. The consequence of this is that the deficit will continue to grow and because of that the national debt will continue to grow. There will never be a day when Congress spends so little money that seven trillion dollars of debt goes away. If congressmen can get away with distributive legislation, and continue to get reelected because of it, then it is going to be a very hard habit to break.