Washington Matters


Pork Still Works for Most Voters

Mark Willen

Public anger at government spending and the rising debt still seems to stop when proposed cuts hit close to home.



Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced plans to cut thousands of jobs, reduce spending on contractors and close a military command to help reduce the deficit. Though relatively modest considering the size of the Pentagon budget -- $550 billion -- the moves were described in media reports as sweeping. And predictably, senators and congressmen vowed to block some of the proposals.

One of Gates’ ideas, for example, is to dismantle the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which is mostly based in southeastern Virginia. The state’s two Democratic senators -- Mark Warner and Jim Webb -- immediately protested, as did most of the state’s House delegation, including Republican Whip Eric Cantor. Virginia’s budget-cutting GOP governor, Bob McDonnell, set up a commission to fight for the facilities.

It’s an old story. Calls for fiscal restraint are popular in theory, but the devil is always in the details, especially when the details mean cuts in your own backyard. We saw it earlier this year when President Obama called for reduced NASA spending, and GOP Sen. Richard Shelby, who boasts of his deficit credentials, immediately moved to save facilities in his home state of Alabama. And we’re seeing it now with the Gates proposals.

One reason is that’s what the voters want. They may rail against a Congress that keeps spending and spending, but they still want their pork. A Pew Research poll out earlier this month found that 53% of voters are more likely to vote for an incumbent who brings home the bacon, while only 12% are less likely to vote for him or her. Another 33% say it wouldn’t influence their vote.

Until those numbers turn around, Congress isn’t likely to make a real dent in spending.



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