Politics & Policy

A Futile Fight

A reponse to Senator Coburn.

I admire Sen. Coburn, and supported his nomination in 2004, when much of the Republican establishment didn’t. I do wish he would find a more productive way to spend his time than his campaign against pork, which takes up far too many conservative resources for any good it can accomplish.

I pointed out that since congressmen boast about most of the pork they get enacted into law, transparency can hardly reduce the amount of pork. Sen. Coburn responds that congressmen are politically foolish to bring home pork and brag about it. Even if that’s true, it doesn’t effect my point.

I pointed out, secondly, that in most cases what the porkbusters are offering is not a reduction in spending but a change in who is doing the spending, from the legislative to the executive branch. Sen. Coburn responds that Congress can cut spending whenever it wants. Of course that’s true. But it can do that whether or not it reduces pork, and it can do the reverse, too: Reduce pork without reducing spending. So why the obsession with pork?

Finally, I pointed out that pork is a tiny percentage of the federal budget and that concentrating on it risks making it appear that it is what has driven runaway federal spending. Coburn responds that senators are perfectly capable of fighting both pork and entitlements, as both he and Sen. DeMint have done. Perfectly true, but again non-responsive.

Coburn is right that Congress can reduce entitlements at any time, and can reduce federal spending at any time. Those facts, which I never controverted, are not helpful in figuring out what conservatives’ policy priorities ought to be.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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