Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The State We Are In

In his Constitutionally-obligated State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama expressed pointedly that the government must unite to freeze spending…and invest in winning the future by spending. Specifically, the touted-since-Eisenhower critical areas of education and the sciences. However one balances that particular ledger – because you cannot simultaneously contain and allocate spending – the president explicitly targeted earmarks. Examining the record of the Democratic-controlled 111th Congress, he certainly must have been speaking directly to his own political party.

In the spirit of bipartisanship, perhaps that was the intention. Even so, neither party is innocent.

Sampling the top ten Congressional earmark “offenders” for both chambers in each fiscal year between 2008-’10, Democrats outpaced Republicans in total number of and total cost for earmarks IN EVERY YEAR. In the House of Representatives, Democrats ranked in the top ten 22 times to the Republicans 8 in both categories over the three year period. The story is similar in the Senate, where Democrats ranked in the top ten 24 times to the Republicans 6 in total earmarks and 19 to 11 in total cost over the three years. In total, Democrats ranking in the top ten from both chambers attached 6,960 earmarks at a cost of nearly $10.2 billion, compared to Republicans ranking in the top ten who attached 2,214 at a cost of nearly $6.6 billion. Those are only the totals for the top tier Congressional members over the past three years; it stands to reason that with the president addressing the issue of cutting earmarks Democrats, more so than Republicans, undoubtedly raised a silent stink. Figuratively, if not literally.

Little surprise that Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) oppose Obama’s call to veto any legislation containing earmarks, both consistently ranking high in pork barrel politics. Business as usual in politics generally and Washington, D.C., especially. (Excepting Thad Cochran, R-MS, who unabashedly led all Congressional Republicans three years running in an exorbitant, if not enthusiastic, charge for earmarks in the Senate, finally topping both categories overall in number of and cost for earmarks in fiscal year 2010. *Sarcasm alert* Congratulations Senator!)

The biggest head scratcher by far is the call to lead the way in innovation, particularly in the context of energy – whether so-called “clean” or not – and technology. Amazing if not bizarre that in the 21st century we still talk of oil exploration (have we already forgotten the BP oil spill?), coal mining (how many hours lost watching the Chilean miner rescue?) and train travel (otherwise disguised as “high-speed rail”). Fossil fuels and trains? Really? Trains, the technology whose expansion is allegedly necessary – at the cost of billions – for the transportation needs of the American people…if we were still living in the 19th century. Scientists have split the atom, developed unprecedented information sharing through the Internet, and mapped the human genome, yet we still utilize the energies and technologies of old repackaged as innovatively new. As if some cyber-warped steampunk surrealism substituting for reality looking to the future through the past.

From where are the innovations to come by such backward-thinking futurism, in order to “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world”? Nowhere, if we continue using the terms and technologies of our ancestors. (I am STILL waiting for my self-guided flying car scientists…)

As President Obama noted, the United States is indeed at a “Sputnik moment.” With the partisan divide alone in addressing our economic woes and the threats to national security, the state of the union makes that very clear. 

©2011 Steve Sagarra

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