Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks,
Pork cutlets in Potomac marinara sauce
“The House and Senate bills have too much pork,” President Bush declared on Wednesday, referring to the latest “supplemental” spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pork? Let’s see. The bill is a monstrosity. No question about that: $122 billion to finish off the year’s fighting — and raise the cost of the wars this year alone to $200 billion, or $3.8 billion a week, or, essentially, $500 million a day. Put aside for now the demonstrated futility of it all. Let’s just take that $500 million a day, most of it in Iraq, some of it to feed Halliburton’s various frauds as it pretends to feed, clothe and toilet the troops, and compare the $500 million a day to what Bush calls Pork. According to a Times blog, the entire porkish amount adds up to some $5.5 billion, $4.2 billion of which being agricultural supports, and $640 million for something called “LIHEAP.” Hmmm. Sounds suspicious. Let’s see.
That $4.2 billion in agricultural assistance, I’ll grant you, sounds egregious. The farm bill the nation is living under at the moment, which Bush happily signed during his first term, is a pig farm of pork disguised as subsidies disguised as necessary price supports for farmers who, by now, should find another line of work: watching fallow fields at taxpayers’ expense isn’t the best use of taxpayer dollars. But it’s always good to check the source. So I looked up the actual appropriations bill as passed by the House, and the one passed by the Senate.
First thing I come across in that agricultural package in the House version is a $450 million appropriation for… “contingency operations directly related to the global war on terrorism, and other unanticipated defense-related operations.” Does Bush consider that part of his “pork”? Then we get into the meat of that allegedly frivolous spending: $135 million in agricultural assistance for livestock, citrus and other farmers whose lands and stocks were ravaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Frivolous? Also, $120 million in assistance for the Gulf region’s shrimpers, whose livelihood was also severely damaged. Also, $30 million for the Department of Education for… helping to recruit and pay the salaries of teachers in Katrina-affected areas, where bringing teachers back may be somewhat of a challenge. Pork? Only if you have the IQ of a bovine and the heart of a swine, although that’s being unkind to swine.
I also see $1.3 billion in flood control dollars for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, also related to New Orleans and Katrina, and $4.3 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, ostensibly for the same purpose (you never know with that department). Pork? Maybe to Bush, who’s paid the Gulf region no heed since his floodlit and promise-laced speech from Jackson Square.
In fairness to the swinish swine-hunters, there is, for instance, this $25 million appropriation for spinach growers (no kidding) affected by some that Food and Drug Administration directive related, one presumes, to that salmonella outbreak in spinach. But even that’s hard to define as pork, considering that the spinach growers were being reimbursed only 75 cents on the dollar. In the Senate bill there is an odd $75 million appropriation to modernize the computer system of the Farm Service Agency, the federal program that makes loans to farmers. The money would be better spent on the FBI’s computer system. But the FBI, given a few billion dollars for the job, gave up.
That $640 million for “LIHEAP”? LIHEAP is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps the poor pay their heating bills in winter. It provides millions of people, most of them children, the kind of security blanket that makes the difference between a warm home and a cold street. No need to go on listing that pork. You get the idea. (Better yet: read the bills for yourself and see where the true waste really is.)
Is Bush suggesting that spending that amount of money on 30 hours of illegitimate war-making in Iraq is more valuable than a calendar year’s worth of extra assistance for the poor? Of course he is. “The House and Senate bills have too much pork,” he says, because it’s the only way to deflect attention from the true crime in the supplemental appropriation, the $116 billion being spent on a war we shouldn’t be fighting in a place we shouldn’t be, at the expense of crying needs at home. That $30 million to help recruit teachers is a pittance, compared with the need. That energy assistance will help, but how many people will actually lack basic shelter and heat next winter (global warming notwithstanding)? That’s not to say that calling it pork isn’t an effective tactic. Watch the news. All the reactionary shout-heads on Fox will be crying pork all night and through next week, assuming, with the president, that most people won’t lift a finger to leaf through the bill and see that those few dollars being grabbed here and there for home needs will be helping the lives of real people with real needs in ways none of those shout-heads, nor the president, could dare say are undeserved: those are the same people the president stands with for his occasional photo-ops from the Gulf region. The duplicity is revolting, but not nearly as revolting as the consequence of those $116 billion being added to the nearly half trillion spent so far on that trinity of waste— Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terror.