Seniority power revealed in new report over pork

Published 7:06 pm Monday, April 19, 2010

Citizens Against Government Waste’s annual review of so-calledpork barrel projects can be viewed in several ways when consideringthe fiscal conditions and goings-on around Congress and in ournation’s capital.

The 2010 “Pig Book,” as it’s often called, took Mississippi’s U.S.Sen. Thad Cochran to task for his acumen in steering almost $500million for “pork” projects to his desired destinations – much ofwhich to his home state. The ranking Republican on the SenateAppropriations Committee was given the “Thad the Impaler Award”among the book’s list of Oinker honors.

In this tough economy and amid concerns of runaway spending by thefederal government, “pork” and “earmarks” have become dirty wordsin many circles. There is certainly some justification for thoselaments.

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But like the familiar trash or treasure comparison, the problemthere is that one man’s pork is another man’s “vital public serviceproject” – or some other euphemistic moniker. A review of Cochran’s”pork” is little to be ashamed of as each item injects funding intoprojects important to strengthening Mississippi’s educational andmanufacturing base that will help lead us into the future and catchus up with the rest of the country.

Furthermore, a closer look at CAGW’s rankings of states on the porkscale provides evidence why having a senator or congressman withseniority is so important to small states like Mississippi.

On the pork per capita scale, Mississippi ranked fifth (animprovement from its 2009 placement of ninth), behind Hawaii, NorthDakota, West Virginia and Alaska.

Hawaii was well in front with a per capita total of $251.78, whileMississippi’s total was $108.96. The national average was $27.36per person.

Of the Top 10 states on the per capita scale, six had populationsunder 1 million people, and No. 10 Rhode Island was just barelyabove that threshold. In fact, only Mississippi at 2.9 million hada population over 2 million people.

Our Founding Fathers established a bicameral legislative systemwhere a state’s representation in the House of Representatives wasbased on population and each state had two members of the U.S.Senate.

That would suggest that many years of service in the Senate – andCochran has been there since 1978 – would increase a particularsenator’s influence over spending.

From the House side, though, former Mississippi 1st Districtrepresentative the late Jamie Whitten provided ample evidence ofthe power of seniority. With 53 years in office, the second-longestserving member of the House was Appropriations Committee chairmanfrom 1979 to 1992.

Like the system or not, Cochran and Whitten’s tenures aretestaments to the power of seniority.

Without it, does anyone really think Mississippi – or any othersmall population state for that matter – would be able to competewith more populous states like California or New York forsufficient funding for infrastructure, economic development andother needs? For the record, California, with its population of36.9 million, ranked 40th and New York, with its 19.5 millionpopulation, ranked 46th respectively on the pork per capitalist.

Standing up against earmarks as some lawmakers have done is a nobleand worthy position. However, the danger is that campaign opponentswill try to make hay in claiming the incumbent is not looking outfor the home front and he could find himself out of office.

The pursuit of pork is problematic for several reasons. But untilall agree to play by the same rules and stop pursuing it, the gamewill not change.