Sunday, December 5, 2010


Republicans made a great show of recently voting to ban "earmarks"; special funding requests politicians make for their home states. It is what used to be called pork or was known as bringing home the bacon. Republicans were responding to the screams of those in their party allegedly upset about federal spending and to voters angry at Washington for an ailing economy and high unemployment. In any given year, earmarks can represent billions in additional spending added to appropriation bills by members of Congress. Earmarks are used to fund everything BART to high-speed train projects to highway and bridge projects. The official position of the Republican Party is no more earmarks, no more pork, fiscal responsibility. Maybe...

Two of the nation's major ports are in Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. Both ports need money to expand and deepen so they will be able to handle bigger ships. The Panama Canal is being widened to handle much larger container ships and if these two ports are not enlarged the ships will go to New York or Virginia to unload. This could cost Georgia and South Carolina thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in lost revenue. Both Savannah and Charleston want money to dredge and deepen their channels. In the past, this would be handled by having members of Congress insert a specific request for the money into an appropriation bill. They would "earmark" the funds for the projects. However, Republicans now say they have ended this abusive practice. They heard the anger of voters and the days of log rolling and pork are over. Maybe...

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina voted to ban earmarks. He is opposed to pork. However, when asked about money for Charleston, Graham says if he has to use earmarks to get the money to expand the port, he will. "I'm in a spot where I have to get the port deepened for economic reasons," he said. Graham says the expansion of the port is vital. This is not a bridge to nowhere or a frivolous request and he needs an exception to the ban. He is not alone.

Both Georgia senators, Saxbee Chambliss and Johnny Isakson have gone to great lengths to tout their opposition to earmarks. They point to the profligate Democrats who have ruined our economy by spending too much and for spreading pork throughout the nation. They are both champions of fiscal conservatism. So what do they say about the $400 million the port of Savannah wants from the federal government to deepen its channel? Chambliss says, "my position has consistently been support for reform or total elimination of earmarks." BUT "if a project is vital to the economy and jobs in my state. I'm sent here by the people of my state to make sure their interests are looked after." (I smell bacon frying.) What about Senator Isakson? He says he supports the ban on earmarks BUT he would "...continue to fight for funding for projects...that is critical to my state and US trade." Do I hear oinking in the background? The late senator Robert Byrd, who brought more pork to his state than any senator ever, could not have said it any better.

There are still Republicans who say they will honor the ban. Sen. Jim DeMint says he wants a merit-based system instead of earmarks. Of course, he believes Charleston has more merit than projects in other states and he will fight to get funding to deepen the port. (A rose by any other name?)

Just like sleeping in their offices to show they aren't part of the Washington establishment, the earmarks ban is another stunt Republicans have used to curry favor with the voters. The reality is every senator and member of the House will continue to bring home the bacon if they want to get re-elected. The out of control spending Republicans want to control occurred when they controlled the Congress for 6 years. The out of control federal debt ballooned while they ran the entire government from the White House to the Supreme Court. Now we are to believe they got religion and they are going to change. There's a new sheriff in town. Maybe...

The term earmark may disappear, but the practice will not. They will call it something else. The purpose of government is to give money away. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican depends on who you want to see get the money. We need spending on infrastructure...roads and bridges etc. We need funding for research and development of emerging technologies, green technologies, and innovation in order to compete against China and India The Bay Area needs money for mass transit, bridges, roads, a smart electrical grid, universities and many other projects. There is nothing wrong with requesting funds for these purposes. We don't need political stunts and we need to call out the Republican hypocrites for exactly what they are.

Are there billions of tax dollars spent on unnecessary pork? Yes. Are there members of Congress who get funding for projects to pay off campaign contributors? Yes. Should there be some sort of point or scoring system to determine which projects will be funded? Yes. Will political stunts and hypocrisy get us there? Not in my lifetime.


  1. Just want to clear up a couple of misconceptions here. Firstly Port of Charleston is able (and does handle) these larger container ships already. Currently they sail through Suez, not Panama to get to the East Coast. In fact the SCSPA openly courts importers and shipping lines with the line "One of only three ports on the East Coast with deep water" (The others being Norfolk and Halifax). Savannah does currently handle these same vessels but they are restricted in depth and tide so they can only enter/leave at certain windows and cannot come in or leave fully laden. New York has its own problem. The majority of container handling terminals are beyond the Bayonne Bridge which is too low to allow the largest ships through. They themselves are looking at finding $1bn to either raise the bridge or knock it down and build a larger bridge to accommodate. Therefore the chances of taking the cargo from the South is unlikely (apart from the logistics of moving it inland, that’s another problem altogether). One thing though, its fine if you don't want these larger ships, just don't complain when the retail prices increase.

  2. I'm confused on the misconceptions mentioned above. On the Lindsey Graham website:

    it states:

    “This should serve as a reminder that time is of the essence when we are talking about deepening of the Port of Charleston. It is critically important we ensure the Port of Charleston receive the funding it desperately needs to move ahead with its harbor deepening study. At the end of the day, harbor deepening is about job creation. And our actions in the months ahead will have a long-lasting impact on the economic future of our state."

    If the Port of Charleston can already handle the larger container ships, why is the above referenced harbor deepening study needed?