King of Pork


One might think it’s a royal title that members of Congress would prefer to avoid, but such is not the case with Rep. [sw: Marion Berry], D-Ark., who told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that “nothing would please [him] more” than to be known as the King of Pork on Capitol Hill. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Berry is well placed to vie for the crown.

The article suggests something I’ve read before in several other places–that earmarks aren’t a problem, that they don’t in and of themselves increase federal spending:

Berry, a Democrat who sits on the Appropriations Committee, acknowledges that there is more sensitivity about earmarks among his colleagues, who fear being seen as big spenders. But he maintains earmarks have relatively little impact on the budget, compared with the tax cuts Congress has passed.

During the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, member-requested projects received $29 billion of the total $ 843 billion budgeted for discre- tionary programs, according to Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington group that advocates cuts in federal spending.

“Earmarks are not the problem,” Berry says.

I would tend to agree with him if he were preface “problem” with the word “only,” but since he doesn’t (and further, suggests that low taxes are the real problem), it’s worth remembering that Berry, as a member of Congress, is an active proponent of programs and policies that put money in the pockets of his relatives, his son, his spouse and–when he leaves Congress–himself, according to his personal financial disclosure form.

Berry and his spouse are part owners of various farms in Arkansas that receive federal agriculture subsidies–Merion Berry, Inc. (some $801,661 from 1995 to 2004, according to Environmental Working Group, CARMAR Lowe, Inc. ($530,869 over the same period) and Pecan Post, Inc. ($548,213), to name three–that receive federal agriculture subsidies. His son is part owner of another, Mitchell Berry Inc. ($289,456).

This isn’t a secret–from time to time, papers in his home state of Arkansas have reported on Berry’s farm investments and the federal subsidies he receives, as well as noting his active role in making farm policy. Whether it’s exempting rice from trade embargoes imposed on Cuba or Iran, or promoting biobased fuels made from farm crops, or insisting that only coalition members get contracts with the old Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq (after a contributor of his lost out to a foreign competitor)–Berry is out front in using the levers of power at his disposal to benefit farmers. Like himself.

I did a quick calculation based on his most recent financial disclosure form–somewhere between 59 and 77 percent of the personal wealth Berry and his wife disclosed (asset values are given in broad ranges on the forms, hence the imprecision of the calculation) is tied up in agriculture. Yet he regularly weighs in on agricultural policy, including on the amount of subsidy payments farmers receive, which contribute to the income of businesses which he owns and from which his wife draws a salary.

Earmarks are not the problem. Indeed.