The case for pork

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I haven't seen a defense of pork barrel spending in the blogosphere recently, so let me make one. The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to argue that pork barrel spending was politically benign because it was one way for an administration or for the congressional leadership to hold together a majority that could act decisively on other, more important issues.

Expensive, perhaps, but a small price to pay in order to assure functioning government.

This was part, he argued, of the constitutional scheme. And in fact pork barrel spending — earmarked appropriations and transportation bills— have operated in just this way, both when the Democrats had majorities in Congress before 1995 and for the Republican majorities that we've had (except for 18 months in the Senate) ever since. Speaker Dennis Hastert has had between 221 and 232 Republicans in a House where the majority is 218, and he and other party leaders have held them together on all manner of important issues in part because of pork.

No pork is pretty, and there's room in my Moynihan-inspired argument for saying that it can get excessive. But if men are not angels, as Madison thought, it's unrealistic to think you can have an effective representative democracy without pork. Or so this argument goes. I'm not sure if I agree with it or not.