Thursday, August 27, 2009

And For My Next Trick...

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers has an article in the Washington Times today about the Republican Party's web site.

The other area of potential waste that I wanted to highlight for concerned citizens originates right here in Congress, through earmarks. These funding requests often favor parochial projects that may not benefit the whole country but that are important to a particular member of Congress.

At their worst, these earmarks have bought us "the bridge to nowhere" in Alaska, the Woodstock Museum in New York, and other pork projects that cannot be justified. In the interest of full disclosure, I have requested funding for projects on occasion when they were a priority for the nation and a worthwhile expenditure of taxpayer funds.

So by her definition everything she requested is not pork or wasteful. Find me a politician that doesn't say the same. 2008 she took a stand against earmarks, not asking for any for the entire year. Last December, she was appointed chair of the Select Committee on Earmark Reform. Check their web site and you'll see there hasn't been any visible activity since its creation. "Washington is Broken", it says, and Republicans want to bring change and transparency to the process by which Washington spends taxpayer money.

She rightfully states, "Which earmarks are wasteful and which are wise? One man's meat is another man's poison." So we are left to decide for ourselves if an earmark is pork or not. A search of the earmarks database for those requested by Cathy McMorris Rodgers brings up thirty-six entries. I can't argue whether all of them are, in her words, a priority for the nation or a worthwhile expenditure of taxpayer funds. One reason is that the descriptions are vague enough to be interpreted any way you like and you have to do a lot of looking to find out more about each.

There's $1,000,000 for a Potholes Reservoir Supplemental Feed Route to conserve water for irrigation and another $1,000,000 for an Odessa Subarea Special Study which is for preserving remaining groundwater supplies. They seem to be redundant, but it turns out they're not. I won't bore you with the details but feel free to follow the links. Both earmarks go to the Columbia Basin Development League which has links to the Odessa Subarea Special Study and the Potholes Supplemental Feed Route on a Bureau of Reclamation web site. They certainly seem okay.

There is also $800,000 for Enhancing Barley Through Genomics?

The purpose of this project is to stimulate economic activity and improve human health and welfare by using the tools of genomics to develop improved barley varieties. Barley is a cornerstone of American agriculture; it provides farmers with an option to increase genetic diversity, use less irrigation water, and to be more profitable. It can also contribute to rural community sustainability and development by increasing the manufacture and sale of value-added barley products generating business activity.

Go to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations site and click on the "Countries by commodity" link in the middle of the left side of the page. Then select barley and scroll down to view the results. In dollars, the US production of barley was second only to France. Scroll back up and change the sort by from Value to Quantity and view the results. When it comes to amount, the US produced less barley than nine other countries. Is this a worthwhile expenditure of taxpayer funds? Maybe...if you're a beer drinker.

On a related note, there's $3,500,000 for a Cereal Rust Disease Initiative Project.

Highly virulent and aggressive new races of stem, leaf, and stripe rust have appeared in the world, which now threaten the entire U.S. production of wheat, barley, and oats. An aggressive, coordinated research effort is needed to identify and introduce new germplasm, genes, and varieties with improved and sustainable rust resistance. If stem rust races become established in the U.S., wheat production losses of over 1.4 billion bushels per year, worth approximately $10 billion, are possible.

That sounds pretty serious. But let's go back to the UN site and check wheat production. In 2007 the US produced 55,822,700 metric tonnes (a smidgeon over 2 billion bushels) of wheat valued at $7.7 billion. That's an odd disparity in value, but--as we used to say in the military--it's good enough for government work.

The question I have concerns the "are possible" are the end of that description. Is that the worst case scenario? What's the likelihood? So you have to do more research to find out.

All in all a fun exercise, but how many people will take the time or have the resources to conduct a thorough check of each and every earmark? And even in doing so, will each be able to discern what is necessary and worthwhile?

McMorris Rodgers is right to be concerned about the government's budget and the taxpayer's money. Strangely, she never complained when this news came out in February of last year not long after she told President Bush what she thought of him.

It's all politics, folks. And let's face it, she's pretty darn good at it.

1 comment:

Lucas said...

I friended her on Facebook. When she posted the link to that Op-ed I left a longish ranty comment about her suggesting that "they" rammed TARP through and that as a member of the Republican Leadership it was her job to know what she was voting for. And also that I hate it when politicians rail against earmarks, after requesting $127M of them. The irony is that several of the earmarks she requested are for medical research that looks an awful lot like the comparative effectiveness research from HR 3200 which she opposes. McMorris-Rogers is a good politician, but that doesn't mean she is doing good work for the people of her district. Sadly, she seems to be on the fast track to becoming a powerful member of congress which will make it more difficult to get her out and replace her with someone progressive.