LA Senators Accused of Hamming it Up

Thursday, March 12, 2009 - 6:52pm

Two Louisiana Senators are accused of hamming it up. A consumer watchdog says they have millions of dollars in earmarks, sometimes called pork spending. Our Lauren Unger cuts away the fat to get the facts. It’s often called pork or earmarks, which is federal spending for lawmakers’ pet projects. But as it turns out, some say pork can be in the eyes of the beholder.

Pork, it’s become a dirty word in government. In the most recent spending bill, special earmarks made up hundreds of millions of dollars, which is a tough meal for some taxpayers to swallow. Taxpayer Tracy Fontenot says, “It is frustrating, especially when I have to pay a lot of taxes this year.”

In recent years, many point to frivolous pet projects that have slipped through the cracks on Capitol Hill, everything from a hot air balloon festival to a dog park. Steve Zanovec says, “We need to focus on the main issues before we start doing any of these special interest things.”

In the recent package, Louisiana lawmakers Mary Landrieu and David Vitter are in the top five Senators when it comes to the amount of federal money earmarked. But is that actually a bad thing? Some political analysts say no. Dr. Robert Hogan says, “A lot of people would argue that this is how they keep getting reelected at such high rates. They’re able to bring home benefits to their districts and gets favor or voters.”

Bringing home the bacon, here in Baton Rouge. Earmarks include $800,000 for the Louisiana District Attorney’s Early Intervention Program for at risk students, $428,000 for Mary Bird Perkins Cancer and Early Detection, and $381,000 for facilities and equipment at the Pennington Biomedical Center. Mayor Kip Holden explains, “We pay our taxes and we get some of that money back in the form of projects or grants that we can use in the city and in the parish.”

But with the U.S. government severely in debt, some people we spoke with just aren’t buying it. Max Forbes says, “At a time like this when things are as bad as they are we should be doing as little extra spending as possible.” Rene Ragas agrees, “While the projects I hope would be good for our state, I would also hope they would take responsibility decreasing earmarks.” High expectations for lowering government spending.

This isn’t a new problem. There’s been pork in budgets for decades. In fact, some political experts say the only way to cut it would be to give the President line-by-line veto power. That means he could cut out frivolous projects without rejecting the entire package.