January 31st, 2006


Trimming the Budget

Senators McCain and Coburn are trying to crack down on "earmarks" in Federal budgets. This is part of the Porkbusters effort. The classic example of "pork" in the budget is appropriating money for a useless new building or road in the Congressman's district. I'm all for cutting that.

But I'd hate to get rid of earmarks or other odd budget items completely. They have another function--allowing a good idea to by-pass barriers in the Federal bureaucracy. My favorite example is the Delta Clipper Experimental, a rocket technology demonstrator which was strongly resisted by the rocket old-boy network. DCX settled some arguments in the launch vehicle community and laid the groundwork for future advances in launch technology. So was it pork? Someone with no interest in technology could cheerfully say it was just Rep. Rohrabacher's way of trying to win votes from the aerospace engineers in his district. I can protest about the wonderful lessons from DCX, but the guys getting rich from sugar tariffs can probably sound just as sincere.

So what's the best way to handle it? I favor sunshine. If the sponsors have to defend their little pet line item in front of the whole country, shame should keep the worst projects from getting into the budget. Except for congressmen whose constituents glory in their ability to loot the Treasury--those we may just have to live with.
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