Thursday, March 23, 2006

The hypocrisy of religion-based Republican pork

Here's yet another entry in The Annals of Duh (maybe a new series at The Reaction?). Republicans are porking it up big-time with their supporters, throwing millions and millions and millions at the socially conservative (and largely religious) base. The Washington Post has the details:

For years, conservatives have complained about what they saw as the liberal tilt of federal grant money. Taxpayer funds went to abortion rights groups such as Planned Parenthood to promote birth control, and groups closely aligned with the AFL-CIO got Labor Department grants to run worker-training programs.

In the Bush administration, conservatives are discovering that turnabout is fair play: Millions of dollars in taxpayer funds have flowed to groups that support President Bush's agenda on abortion and other social issues.

Under the auspices of its religion-based initiatives and other federal programs, the administration has funneled at least $157 million in grants to organizations run by political and ideological allies, according to federal grant documents and interviews.

Does this surprise you? If so, have yourself checked for dementia. This is Big Government Republicanism we're talking about, and conservatives are more than happy to lap it up, to suck at the eternal teat of Washingtonian largesse. Oh, and it helps to be able to buy off your supporters. Keep 'em knee-deep in the gravy and you're sure to benefit at the ballot box.



Steve Benen calls it "[s]hameless," which it is. (Shame runs on short supply in them parts.) Ezra Klein calls the flow of cash in support of "the right wing's most reactionary agenda items" all "rather unsurprising," which it also is. Pam Spaulding predicts "[t]his gravy train won't end any time soon," which it won't.

See also Frederick Maryland on the selective compassion of "compassionate conservatism" and Pamela Leavey on "slush funds".

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  • Perhaps I am going to sound here too much like a political science professor, but that's what I am...

    It is not accurate to call this pork. Congress passed a Community-Based Abstinence Education grant program, and groups apply for funds, which are awarded on a competitive basis. At least that is how it works, as best I can tell.

    It is hardly surprising that groups with a right-wing social agenda are more likely to qualify for funding under the terms of this law. That was the intent of congress in passing it.

    But pork, properly understood, does not pass through merit-review procedures as do these grants. Pork-barrel spending bypasses any review (other than congress members' individual electoral calculations), as is the case with congressional appropriations earmarks.

    In other words, there is no contradiction between the statement of Assit. Sec. Wade Horn ("Whoever got these grants wrote the best applications") and Michael's remark ("conservatives are more than happy... to suck at the eternal teat of Washingtonian largesse"). But there is a contradiction between Horn's statement (which I believe is accurate) and "pork."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:52 PM  

  • Fair enough, Matthew. You're right to point to the strict meaning of "pork," and I defer to your expertise. I thought twice (and perhaps thrice) about calling it "pork". Isuppose I was trying to use "pork" in a broader sense, as monies funnelled to political constituencies for the sake of boosting political fortunes.

    Couldn't this be seen as backdoor pork, in that sense? Setting up programs that only your side can benefit from?

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 3:32 PM  

  • That is a really good question. It is ultimately a definitional question, but as I will suggest below, I think it matters for how we go about opposing policy decisions that we dislike. Some scholars define (at least implicitly) 'pork' by how narrow the beneficiaries are, and so if they are small intense minorities (especially if they also tend to support only one party), then it is 'pork.'

    I prefer a procedural definition, because I think it avoids the hair-splitting of how 'narrow' the beneficiaries are. It is pretty straightforward (usually) how the beneficiaries are determined. I mean the specific recipients of the money, as in this abstinence group and not that one.

    If all abstinence groups are by definition narrow, then this is pork by the definition that focuses on what kinds of groups benefit--organized groups with intense interest in the policy, and who support a particular party. But if majorities of the House and Senate, plus the President, approve a law stating that it is the policy of the US Government that federal dollars be spent on abstinence education, and then the individual organizations that get the dollars are determined by some sort of peer-review or technical scoring criteria--and not, for example, on account of which ones have contributed more money to Republican campaigns--then it is not pork by the procedural definition.

    So, who cares? I think it matters what we call it, and how we define pork, because it affects where we direct our energies in opposing it. If we dislike this policy, and think of it as the program or policy of a given party, and not pork, it is clear: defeat the party in power or push it to change its policy priorities. If we think of it as pork, then it is a government-reform issue (making decisions more transparent, campaign finance reform, etc.) I have discussed this a little bit in some posts on congressional ethics and earmarks, security funding, New Zealand government formation, the FDA's drug-approval process, and the infamous "bridge to nowhere."

    Sorry for all the links, and for sounding even more like a professor. Be careful what you ask for! And thanks for pushing me to think a bit more--always a good thing!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:46 PM  

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