Citizens Against Government Waste's 2006 "Pig Book," tracking annual congressional pork-barrel spending, is out today.
Among the worst offenses this year are "$13,500,000 for the International Fund for Ireland, which helped finance the World Toilet Summit; $6,435,000 for wood utilization research; $1,000,000 for the Waterfree Urinal Conservation Initiative; and $500,000 for the Sparta Teapot Museum in Sparta, N.C."
That is all fine as far as it goes. CAGW should be applauded for policing such profligacy, which by and large is meant to curry votes in home constituencies. (I have worked in the past for congressional appropriators. To be sure, there is a lot of validity to many individual "ear-marked" projects, but they generally are inserted into appropriations bills with the next election, and not the wise use of taxpayer money, in mind.)
But the $29 billion in "pork-barrel" projects identified by CAGW represents only 2.8 percent of total federal discretionary spending, and just 1.05 percent of the total $2.77 trillion budget. Nondiscretionary spending ("entitlements") accounts for fully 61.4 percent of the budget, and growing.
Just as it is an annual rite in Congress to talk about "reforming" entitlement spending, it is also a tradition to duck any substantive action. (A notable but minuscule exception was the decision last year to trim a fraction of a percent from growth over the next five years.) The last real attempt – to make modest and sensible changes to Social Security, a program created more than seven decades ago – was relentlessly demagogued by most Democrats and a few Republicans.
One of the largest interest groups in Washington, AARP, exists almost solely for the insane purpose of blocking any meaningful efforts to modernize or revamp these programs. On the other hand, the arguably larger constituencies that favor fiscal sanity and the continued health of the social safety net are diffused and disorganized.
I don't know what the answer is, but the Office of Management and Budget correctly asserts that the status quo is simply untenable:
Over the long-term, however, the greatest threat to our fiscal health comes from unsustainable growth in entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Toward the end of the next decade, deficits stemming largely from these programs will begin to rise indefinitely, and no plausible amount of spending cuts in discretionary accounts or tax increases could solve the problem. If unaddressed, these unfunded obligations will put an increasing burden on our children and grandchildren.