The Smiling Face of Government Waste

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

    of Republican
state leaders in Carmi, IL, 15th district
U.S. House Rep. Tim Johnson criticized
his Democratic rivals for believing that
the government best knows how to distribute
the nation’s assets. Republicans,
he argued, believe in free enterprise and
rewarding people who succeed in the
face of risk. At the same time, however,
Johnson also cited the need to pass massive
new spending legislation, recommending
(among other things) using
Federal funds for work on the Wabash
River bridge in Mt. Caramel and spending
millions more on ethanol subsidies
contained in a national energy bill. In
fact, Mr. Johnson has proven quite supportive
of massive government spending,
voting most recently for an $820 billion
omnibus spending bill packed with
pet pork projects (my favorite being a
$225,000 swimming pool restoration in
Sparks, Nevada, included in the bill
because Rep. Jim Gibbons felt bad about
having put tadpoles in the pool’s
drainage system when he was a teenager
in the 1950s). Apparently in these particular
cases, Johnson has no problem
with the government distributing the
nation’s assets.
But why should we worry about such
behavior, especially when such projects
usually mean jobs and money for the
local economy, which sorely needs them?
Mr. Johnson will no doubt cite his ability
to secure such funds as a very valid reason
for his re-election come November.
But there’s a slight problem with this
argument, which all incumbents seem to
make this time of year. What he isn’t
telling you (and what will no doubt go
unmentioned during the campaign) is
that in order to get that money, he made
similar deals with most of the other
members of Congress, arranging for
them to take home millions of dollars
too. And you can bet your bottom dollar
that Johnson—who is a relatively
insignificant figure on Capitol Hill—has
brought home far less money than congressional
big wigs like House majority
leader Tom Delay (TX) or Senate appropriations
chairman Ted Stevens (AK).
When all the bills are tallied, the people
of East Central Illinois will end up
spending a lot more on their pork projects
than we will get back, money that
would be better spent on things like
intelligence gathering or paying down
the national debt.
This, however, is not the only flaw in
the incumbent argument. A second
major fallacy is the idea that the money
is actually coming back to “our” district.
While the individual work may be done
on that Wabash river bridge, there is
absolutely no guarantee that the firm
who wins the contract will be locally
owned or operated. Profits from such a
venture, like those obtained by
the large agri-business
farms that benefit from
the ethanol subsidy,
will go to large corporations
Chicago, Texas,
or perhaps the
B a h a m a s
(which thus
enables them to
avoid paying
taxes). So not only
are American jobs
and tax revenues
rapidly being outsourced,
but so also is most
of the money the government spends
on economic stimulus packages.
The problem among politicians today
is not really a question of party or ideology,
though, but that their re-election is
so dependent on spending as much
money as possible, (and then spending
more). Currently, there is no political
incentive for elected officials to be fiscally
responsible, or even to put badly
needed programs like national health
insurance ahead of the somewhat less
urgent needs to build a rainforest in
Iowa ($50 million), to get inner-city kids
playing golf in Florida ($2 million) or to
store potatoes in Madison, Wisconsin
($270,000)—all of which the anti-government
spending legislator Tim Johnson
voted for in H.R. 2673. And unless
we find a way to make our voices heard
on the ridiculousness of such waste and
corruption, politicians will go on throwing
our and our children’s future down
the drain. But there is hope for the
One of the most amazing developments
of the last ten years—the internet—
has revolutionized the way politics
works. Today, the acquisition and distribution
of information is more accessible
than it has ever been before. With just
the click of a mouse, one can instantly
access the records of a particular politician’s
statements on the floor of the
House or Senate (,
compare their voting record to positions
advocated by major interest groups
( or locate and search
through local newspaper archives. A
process that once took days is now
reduced to mere seconds. Additionally,
non partisan watchdog groups like Citizens
Against Government Waste
( sift
through lengthy and
often times difficult to
understand bills
(such as the $820
billion, 1,448
page omnibus
spending bill
that just passed
through Congress),
those pork
items your representative
didn’t want you to find
out about. Other organizations,
like the more partisan, have proven to be particularly
effective at exposing corporate
and political corruption. What makes
these organizations so revolutionary is
not simply their ability to catalogue
political information, but the power they
possess to deliver it instantaneously to
mass numbers of potential voters. The
internet has removed the logistical veil
that has so long obscured the political
machinations ongoing in Washington,
placing in effect a giant poster above
every incumbent inscribed “Big Constituent
is Watching You.”
Yet the wondrous powers of the internet
do not stop there. Regardless of how
things turned out for former presidential
candidate Howard Dean, his campaign
revolutionized the practice of fundraising,
which had previously been limited
to wealthy individual donors and soft
money from special interest group Political
Action Committees or PACs. Dean’s
campaigned raised $50 million, largely
through individual contributions that
average only $77. To put that number in
perspective, Al Gore only raised $45 million
from individual donors during the
entire 2000 election, with the benefit of
being the party nominee and having a
unified Democratic party behind him
(Dean faced eight other democratic
opponents and didn’t win a single primary).
What Dean’s campaign has suddenly
revealed to longtime political
strategists is that there is a very large and
affluent group out there—Joe public—
who has the financial resources to compete
with the larger more organized special
interest groups. Thus the internet
has also reduced the financial divide
between ordinary people and their candidates,
to the extent that they are now
only an email or credit card donation
away. And that is great news for our
Finally, however, none of the
advances described above will ever be
able to fundamentally change Washington
and the way it operates, unless we
take action. Politicians will only get the
message if they feel their most precious
possession is in jeopardy—namely their
jobs. But here too, the internet is proving
to be a most useful tool. Through
internet chat rooms, web “blogs” and
organizations like, political
organization has become easier than
ever. One can connect with millions of
people, across a wide range of geographic
locations, with relatively little time,
effort or money. There is no reliance on
newspaper advertisements, no need to
find accommodations in which to hold
meetings, nor does one even need to find
a babysitter to watch the kids after a long
day of work. In short, the internet is
providing the power to mobilize ordinary
citizens for participation in the
Democratic process. And the more people
who become involved, the more difficult
it will be for special interest groups
to monopolize political resources.
With deference to Mr. Johnson, the
only way to stop government (or more
specifically the interest groups that run
it) from directing the nation’s assets is
for more of us to become involved in the
political process again. Luckily for us,
however, technology is daily making that
an ever more realizable phenomenon.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.