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Commentary

Congress to Waste $6 Billion on Pet Projects Like Michelle Obama Library

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We’ve oft heard the effort against COVID-19, and the concomitant recovery, compared to World War II.

All right, then: Picture this scene in FDR’s Oval Office in 1943 as they discuss the upcoming year’s budget. The president had, according to a paper from Congressional Quarterly Researcher fixed “non-war” spending at four percent of the budget in 1944. However, the Democrats also had a slim majority in the House of Representatives, which meant they had to play ball with the GOP to a certain extent.

So, imagine the first budgetary requests coming in as the president poured over them, cigarette holder clenched in between his teeth, “What’s this — money put aside for the Lou Henry Hoover Library?”

“Ah, yes, Mr. President,” one of his advisers would say. “It needs to be expanded. Well, OK — need is a strong word, but we feel there’s a need to expand a library in Waterloo, Iowa, where the former first lady was born. And, you know,” — here the adviser coughs a bit — “it’s a district represented by a Republican.”

What are the odds that FDR goes for this — if he really is focused on winning a war effort, of course?

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Well, in the 2021 version of winning the war effort, Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives have asked for six billion in local funding in the latest budget. As usual, plenty of the earmarks were profligate and unnecessary. In fact, most of them were.

For instance, there’s that $250,000 for expanding the Michelle Obama Library in Long Beach, California, according to Fox News. In New Jersey, $436,100 could possibly go to a “meditation and restorative yoga” place in New Jersey. There’s another $1,750,000 for renovations to the Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon.

While members of both parties are taking advantage of this, the Washington Times noted the biggest group of politicians feeding from the earmark trough are vulnerable House Democrats in swing seats, looking to bring home the pork.

“Nearly every member of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s thin majority has filed a request for an earmark, while 106 Republicans — half of the House GOP contingent — have done likewise,” the Washington Times reported. “Of the 57 House Democrats considered most at risk of losing their seats next year, 56 have filed requests for earmarks with the House Appropriations Committee.”

Should earmarking remain banned in Congress?

“Data released by the appropriations committee this week revealed how Democrats in at-risk House seats are embracing the earmark process,” they added. “For instance, Rep. Cindy Axne, the only incumbent Democrat to secure reelection in Iowa last year, requested $10 million in earmarks. Her requests are spread over 10 projects that include expanding child care centers and upgrading bridges and water systems.

“In 2020, Mrs. Axne retained her House seat by less than 1 percentage point even as former President Trump carried the district against Mr. Biden.”

Democratic Rep. Colin Allred of Texas also comes from a district that voted heavily GOP in 2012 but went Democrat in 2016 and 2020. Allred, who’s been in for two terms, is outsourcing much of the decision-making to bipartisan committees he’s set up. He’s pushing for $242 million in earmarks, mostly for Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, which is in his district.

“I’m incredibly proud of our community-driven budgeting process that will leverage input from local leaders to help prioritize the needs of North Texas and create jobs,” Allred said.

Earmarking, or the budgetary procedure by which directed spending requests to a state or district represented by a legislator can be suggested, was banned by Congress starting in 2011. This Feb. 26, it returned — and, thanks to $6 billion in earmarks, it’s back in the headlines again.

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And it’s not just Democrats spending this money. While the Senate Republican caucus has said they would embargo the earmarking process, that’s pretty much a toothless gambit. According to Politico, six Republican senators — Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby — confirmed they would be submitting earmarks during budget deliberations.

While some Republicans and conservatives have been critical of this decision (The Daily Caller’s headline: “The Swamp Strikes Back — Many Republicans Will Earmark Again”), Sen. Blunt says it’s common sense to do it as long as Democrats are.

“If House Republicans are requesting individual projects and House Democrats are — and Senate Democrats are — it would seem to me there’s a big gap there for the people we represent if we don’t become part of that process,” Blunt said, according to Politico.

And that’s the problem: If Democrats bring back money for their states and districts while the GOP foreswears it, at least until the bill comes due, the Democrats will sell themselves as the good guys. It’s an unpleasant catch-22: Sure, when we have to pay for it, it’s going to be ugly. But for now, here’s a taxpayer-funded expansion of the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library!

Nearly half a million for a “meditation and restorative yoga” place? You’re welcome, New Jersey. Or the $2 million for an Orange, California, Pickleball and Fitness Circuit; or the $742,000 which would go to New York for a program about “conversations around difficult issues such as racism, gender discrimination and cultural bias;” or $3.75 million to restore the Waukegan Carnegie Museum in Illinois which would create a “new community and event space, preserving history of the community, offering cultural enrichment, and thereby supporting nearby local businesses;” or the $1.5 for free Wi-Fi in a California city — all of which, according to Fox News, are earmarked funding requests.

Remember, though, that all of the money we’re spending right now is being spent under the pretense that we’re in a war against COVID-19 that needs to be fought with shovels full of cash. Otherwise, how are we going to compete with the Chinese?

Say what you will about Franklin Delano Roosevent, at least he knew shoving government money down the maw of the economy as if it were a goose undergoing forced feeding prior to being slaughtered for foie gras wasn’t a tenable option while trying to fight an existential crisis. The Lou Henry Hoover Neighborhood Library wouldn’t have flown. Neither should any excessive spending on neighborhood libraries, no matter how much you like the first lady it’s being named after.

One of the more unpleasant aspects of the nascent Biden administration is the fact our new president believes he’s FDR. If he wants to credibly be seen as such, saying to this kind of outrageous earmarking when we need to be spending to defeat COVID and getting America back to work would be a good way to start.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Birthplace
Morristown, New Jersey
Education
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture




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