I confess to being amused by the internet pork-busters campaign. It’s not that eliminating pork is a bad thing. But some of the pork-busters seem to feel that they are trying to save the House and Senate Republicans from themselves. I suspect it’s more accurate to say that pork-busting presents the scenario most likely to lead to the Republicans losing control of Congress.
It’s a cliche of our politics that voters dislike Congress but like their own representative. Indeed, Donald Lambro in the Washington Times argues that it is this phenomenon that provides Republicans with hope that they will lose, at most, a handful of seats in 2006. Lambro’s piece also provides the explanation (if one is needed) why individual representatives are popular at home, while Congress as a whole is disliked:
The House races are run on local issues, not national issues,” says Carl Forti, communications director of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Substitute the word “pork” for “local issues,” and you’ll understand why I find the pork-busters campaign amusing.
JOHN demurs, in part: There is a basic difference between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to pork. No significant portion of the Democratic base objects in principle to ballooning government spending. Moreover, a Democratic politician who brings home the bacon can often attract votes from Republicans who value pork over principle, and thereby get elected even in a Republican-leaning state. (Tom Daschle was a perfect example.) So, for a Democrat, the issue is easy: pork is all good.
Republican Congressmen and Senators are in a different position. A significant number of their voters, probably a majority, prefer smaller government and oppose government waste on principle. Further, almost all Republican politicians have themselves endorsed limited government principles as candidates. So for a Republican politician, the calculus can be different. People like pork–“local issues,” as Paul says–but in many districts, a Republican politician who offends a big chunk of his base, while looking like a hypocrite in the process, could be in trouble. Besides, most Republican politicians are sincere when they talk about cutting federal spending and eliminating waste. While aware of the political benefit of bacon, they are at best ambivalent about it.
Does that mean the Porkbusters movement can succeed? History, of course, is not promising. Over the last generation we have seen the triumph of small-government rhetoric coexisting with the greatest explosion of federal domestic spending in history. But it would be premature to write off the anti-pork effort. These days, with the major parties in near-balance, elections are mostly about turnout. And many observers think that conditions in 2006 may combine to depress Republican turnout, enabling the Democrats to capture the House, and perhaps the Senate. Conviction on the part of the Republican base that small-government Republicanism is dead could very well be the last straw that puts the Democrats over the top.
So, out of a mixture of genuine conviction and equally genuine self-interest, I think there is a bare possibility that the Republican majorities might actually find enough cuts to set off a substantial portion of the prospective Katrina spending, while at the same time eliminating the most egregious waste from the hurricane appropriations.