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Column: 'Economic' Bailout Contains Too Much Pork

This story was written by Aishlinn O'Connor, The Duke Chronicle

Unless you've been living under a rock recently, you know that the Senate's version of the bailout bill passed both chambers of Congress and was signed into law by President Bush. Most of you know that it is a $700 billion bailout plan intended to stimulate banks into lending again.

But how many know that in the same signature President Bush signed into law the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008? Well, it's Division C, Title IV, Subtitle B of the bill.

Oh and then there's the continuation of national disaster relief for Hurricanes Ike, Katrina and the floods of the Heartland. Division C, Title VII, Subtitles A and B.

How about the renewed tax incentives for movies made in America? The increased benefits for Exxon Valdez recipients? Or the tax reduction for companies making small wooden arrows for children? Or the extension of tax reductions for wool production and research, investment in Washington, D.C., racetrack owners or rum produced in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands?

Much of this is pork, but some might be legitimate details in the tax code. Either way, they weren't discussed. After all, who cares about wooden arrows when the fate of the economy is at risk?

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Division C (all of the non-energy related tax code amendments) will cost more than $105 billion by 2013. In a day and age when we are deficit spending, bailing out our financial industry and struggling to save Main Street, our elected officials continue to pass these pork barrel projects and tax credits without even looking at them.

The problem may seem small in comparison to our overall deficit or even this bill, but it is still money that we are giving away without blinking an eye. Our representatives should actually look at this section of the bill, and ask someone other than the lobbyists whether or not these tax credits are necessary. We have to start cutting back, and wooden arrows seem like a fine place to start.

But more than this, what bothers me is the rationale behind putting these amendments in the bill. Some have claimed that the additions were intended to sway representatives from the House who originally opposed the bailout to vote for it. Any representative who swayed because of a tax break benefiting a business within his or her district does not deserve their seat in the U.S. Congress. At stake is the fate of the entire economy, Wall Street, Main Street and taxpayer's money. This plan needed to be evaluated for its merits alone; these tax breaks should be negligible in the grand scheme of things.

This notion brings another motive to the forefront. No senator or representative was going to reject the bailout simply because of additional pork, and everyone in politics knew it. Look at John McCain. Only a month ago he was on a crusade against pork barrel spending. Remember how he was going to veto any piece of legislation that crossed his desk and had pork in it? Well even he supported this bailout bill, pork and all.

And for those who considered the bailout key to slowing this economic crisis, it was the right decision to pass the bill. But those who put these amendments in the bill in the first place were taking advantage of a national crisis and a need for immediate legislation. This is unethical.

I am not criticizing all of the additions. The disaster relief, Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act or other tax breaks could be legitimate and necessary to pass. But Congress should have been given the opportunity to debate them. They should not be side notes on emergency legislation.

We as citizens expect and deserve a Congress that can come togeter to attempt to resolve a crisis, not one whose members still put reelection and personal interest first.

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