Whole Hog—The Washington watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste keeps a sharp eye on the under-reported phenomenon of pork barrel politics. That’s the antiquated system used by members of Congress to invisibly slip a total of billions of taxpayer dollars into legislation that steers big chunks of cash back to projects in their states and congressional districts. Nobody else monitors this sneaky fiscal butchery as thoroughly as the Citizens Against Government Waste.
To bring the latest pork barrel total for fiscal year 2005 to $27.3 billion, members of Congress stuffed financing for 13,997 special back-home projects into 13 appropriations bills. The insertions were made secretively during committee revisions of appropriations measures, and most members of Congress remained unaware of them when the bills reached a floor vote.
The watchdog group’s 67-page paperback, The 2005 Congressional Pig Book Summary, includes a state-by-state table that shows Alaska as the most pigged-out state, with $645,502,000 in special projects—$984.85 per capita. Hawaii is right up there, with $573,926,000 in pork barrel projects—$454.47 per capita.
The Pig Book can be ordered for $5 by phone with a credit card at 1-800-232-6479 or by mail with a check sent to Citizens Against Government Waste, 1301 Connecticut Avenue N.W., Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036. Consult their website for more information.
Exterminated?—Pest control was the business of Representative Tom DeLay, in Sugar Land, Texas, before his first election to the House in 1984. DeLay is now in his eleventh term. “The Exterminator,” as he is known, when he is not called “The Hammer” for his intimidation of his colleagues, is the subject of growing speculation on his future. At issue is his arm-twisting role as the Republican majority leader in the House.
Wrapped in a growing cloak of scandal, can he be “decapitated as king of the Hill?” asked the British magazine The Economist last month. In the 1960s he was expelled by Baylor University; so why not now? The sense here is that he may be rebuked and demoted to ex-majority leader, but probably will not be ejected from the House.
A Double Whammy—Get a bike. The soaring cost of gasoline is one reason to get one, but now come the soaring rates—on top of the traffic jams—on toll roads. The trouble is that bicycles are not allowed on most of them.
The Wall Street Journal keeps track of prices on stocks, bonds—and now on trips to see Grandma. It forecasts a price rise of 56 percent for the tolls on the Illinois Tollway by the end of May, 43 percent on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and 25 percent on the country’s longest toll road, the New York State Thruway, which will see its tolls rise from $14.70 to $18.50 for the full stretch.
Promoted as a drivers’ bargain, New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway is shutting down some of its traffic-jamming toll gates, but motorists who are used to paying 35 cents per line-up will now pay 70 cents per gate.
Even access to a shorter but sclerotic commuter artery, the 14-mile Dulles Toll Road in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., is doubling to $3. And the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge goes from $2 to $3 this month. The tolls at nine commuter traffic bridges and tunnels in the New York City area rose 13 percent in March.
J. Edgar Who?—Newspapers neglected the story, but it got some attention on TV news. For a week or so, G-men, U.S. Marshals, and local police were shown rounding up as many as 10,000 “wanted” criminal suspects—most long known to law men but neglected by them. The public was treated to the unedifying spectacle of cops breaking down doors to make arrests (courtesy of unlabeled government video footage). It all seemed reminiscent of J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I., and a bit of former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
But this time it was the new attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, who was in charge, and who forked $900,000 in federal money to U.S. and state and local lawmen. He appeared at a Justice Department news conference to explain the raids. It appears that the police-neglected bad guys can now expect to spend at least some time in jail before they can appear before a case-jammed judge.