The Progressive Fix

Should America Pork Out?

On his show last week, Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s Hardball recommended that the president “pork out.” Remember those pet infrastructure projects Republicans sacrificed at the altar of declared fiscal discipline? Matthews wants the president to serve up a feast of pork as a temporary jobs plan.

The basic premise of the Matthews’ plan is that the president packages–in one bill–all of the pet projects that were requested over the past two years by Congress but failed to become law. Discarding the projects that are wasteful or don’t create jobs, the president sends the bill to Congress testing where the GOP’s allegiance lies: with the nation’s 25 million unemployed or the political gain of depressing the economy.

Can a serving of pork really pass Congress and create jobs?

Possibly. Much of the pork spending is basically targeted infrastructure spending. Bipartisan support for earmarks has been historically pervasive, and remains widespread today despite a House enforced moratorium. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-Tenn.) threatened to shutdown the Senate over $50,000 toward deepening the Charleston harbor, and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) sneaked a $700 million bridge overhaul past the earmark ban by not listing the actual cost of the bridge in the bill.

Quick calculations state that if every $1 billion of federal spending spent creates 11,000 job-years and the jobs are temporary, one year long, then allocating $10 billion would create roughly 110,000 gross jobs. Funds could be weighted to ensure the states with the highest unemployment rates receive the most money.

Furthermore the current state of the economy is a rare moment of slack in the inherent tension that exists between federal spending and private investment. Worries that earmark spending muscles out the private businesses are exemplified in a Harvard study that found earmarking by certain Congressman can lead to a 15 percent decrease in that districts’ private sector spending — a worrisome proposition. Except, right now corporations are not spending and instead are sitting on $2 trillion in cash. Federal spending repercussions are lessened because there is little private spending to crowd out.

To preempt deficit hawks, the plan should be part of a long-term deficit reduction package or paired with back-loaded spending cuts to be revenue neutral. An ideal deficit reduction plan would include a much-needed boost to the job market through targeted short-term infrastructure spending supported by former IMF chief economist Ken Rogoff while reducing the deficit over the long term. While a national infrastructure bank would be idyllic, political realities make pork a workable substitute for targeted infrastructure spending.

A good bully pulpit speech could help extinguish any other political opposition. The specificity and detailed local impact of the pork makes the plan a powerful political cudgel.

Envision the president trotting out to the Rose Garden bill in hand, declaring, “The economy is hurting, but I have a jobs plan right here that’ll create over 100,000 jobs right now at a time when 9.1 percent of Americans are out of work. It won’t add one dime to the deficit but it will pay for a wastewater treatment plant in Nevada where the state unemployment rate is 12.9 percent. Yet your representative, Dean Heller, won’t support it. It won’t add one dime to the deficit, but it will pay for a college in Florida where the state unemployment rate is 10. 7 percent. Yet your representative, John Mica, won’t support it.”

Rinse and repeat that speech for three days, and it’s hard not to expect a few Republican defections. Standing tall for spending cuts is fun and games until your district gets hurt. Even if for some reason the plan doesn’t pass, the tenor of Washington will finally be attuned to what the people want and need – jobs.

Photo Credit: Kejonbro



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