FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Is the King of Pork Dead?

When a member of Congress is indicted, the usual practice of the pols in Washington is to tread lightly, declare the accused innocent until convicted, and studiously ignore what is really going on.

Such is the case with the newly indicted Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK). Everyone is playing their appointed role.

His smirk thoroughly suppressed, the Senate’s Democratic Whip, Richard Durbin of Illinois, declared the mood among his Democratic colleagues as “somber” and “we should just let the courts do their work.” Indeed, doing so will almost certainly inch the Senate’s Democratic caucus toward its goal of 60 members and, thus, the ability to steamroll any bills it wants over the shriveled Republican minority.

Imitating the speeder who tells the police officer he didn’t see the sign limiting his Corvette to 25 mph in a school zone, Senator Stevens told the press “I have never knowingly submitted a false disclosure form required by law as a U.S. senator.”

The newspapers are explaining the technicalities of Stevens’ indictment, pointing out that corrupt acts are not alleged, just a failure to report gifts. Indeed, had Stevens had the gall to report the rebuilt house and car he received, he probably would not be in trouble.

In the Senate, Stevens has been best known for two things: periodic emotional tantrums when other senators failed to capitulate to his preferences – usually more federal programs in Alaska. His display when the Senate rejected opening the Artic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling shows an individual who seems to believe that the his personal emotions are a proper guide for national policy.

Senators endure his asinine behavior because of the other thing Stevens does: parcel out their pork. As the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee in the past, and until now at its Defense Subcommittee, Stevens ensures not a single earmark makes it into spending bills without his say so.

Indeed, one is tempted to call Stevens the King of Pork in the Senate and to declare the king dead. That, however, would be to fundamentally misunderstand the system.

First, Stevens is hardly alone in controlling the goodies. Every single morsel in bills that comes out “his” defense appropriations subcommittee must also be approved by the top Democrat, Daniel Inouye, HI. Whether Stevens or Inouye happens to be chairman and the other merely sits atop the minority on the subcommittee means virtually nothing; the pork process is one of the very few things in Congress these days that knows no partisan divide.

Second, having worked in and closely observed the pork process on Capitol Hill for over 35 years, I can assert that no one in the Senate controls it. Earmarks are regarded as essential for political survival. Failure to “bring home the bacon” will attract vociferous attacks – from either party, sometimes both – that the non-porker is “ineffective” or “doesn’t care.” Being lifeblood, earmarks are pursued with a lust that few appreciate. They are never objectively evaluated; staffs of members and committees devote their entire existence to their advocacy, and senators legislate them far more frequently than they do policy. (Just count the amendments on the next defense bill in the Senate.) Any senator atop any committee that does not enable pork will not be chairman, or ranking minority member, for long.

And, there are no exceptions. John McCain (R-AZ) widely advertises himself as a “pork-buster,” and yet, according to the watchdog organization Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Senate Armed Services Committee where he sits as top Republican this year reported a Defense Authorization bill with over $2 billion in pork – against which there is not a peep of complaint at McCain’s Senate or presidential websites or in the Committee’s report. (To be fair, Barak Obama is also not shy as a porker, but at least he doesn’t pretend to be against it in any meaningful way.)

The most important thing the pork system does is to generate revenue. That would not be federal revenue; it would be political revenue. The system is simplicity itself: the senator legislates the earmark; the beneficiary generates the revenue – for the politician.

There are certain rules that regulate the money stream. First and foremost: the gift must be to the politician’s campaign, not to his or her person. Second, neither donor nor recipient can articulate in any way any link whatsoever between the legislative act and the donation. In this wonderfully simple system, the petitioner makes known his wants, and then the legislator legislates. Before, during, or after the legislative deed and without either party visibly offering or soliciting a gift, the campaign donation mysteriously appears. If it doesn’t, the next time around, the legislator may be “too busy” to help the petitioner. If the legislator doesn’t produce, the expression of appreciation just might “fall between the cracks.”

The published rules are carefully written to make this fundamentally corrupt system perfectly legal. There is hardly a single sitting member of Congress who has not repeatedly benefited from it.

Stevens legal mistake was not that he engaged in the corruption of legislating in return for favors; there is no Senate rule or law that bars petitioners from paying off legislators as long as everyone plays the game right. Stevens’ mistake was that he became personally, rather than politically, greedy and failed to comply with a reporting technicality.

Stevens has not been the King of Pork in the Senate; he has been just a cog, albeit a big and oily one, in an ongoing corrupted enterprise. In the US Senate it is Pork that is King, and no one is about to change that.

WINSLOW T. WHEELER spent 31 years working on Capitol Hill with senators from both political parties and the Government Accountability Office, specializing in national security affairs. Currently, he directs the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information in Washington and is author of The Wastrels of Defense.

 

 

 

More articles by:

Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight.  He spent 31 years working for the Government Accountability Office and both Republican and Democratic Senators on national security issues.

December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail