I'm all for taking pork out of the federal budget, with or without Katrina, but the big money is elsewhere. How about delaying the Medicare prescription drug benefit?
Oh, while we're at it, let's kill Amtrak too -- and the f@$%ing moondoggle as well. UPDATE: Damn!! I forgot about the farm subsidies! I would like to think that outrage over the ballooning size of government will lead to some of this steps, but the political scientist in me is hugely skeptical. Budget cuts always sound great in the abstract, but as a policy it's identical to trade liberalization -- the benefits of fiscal stringency are diffuse and indirect, while the costs of budget-cutting are tangible and obvious. True, it's tough to get maudlin about bridges to nowhere, but I can easily picture media accounts demonstrating the tragic losses from cutting Amtrak or the space program, all to shave a quarter of a point off the interest rate. This would be even easier to do with the prescription drug benefit. And while it's OK to scorn government spending that doesn't affect you, once budget-cutting affects your bread and butter, suddenly the public trough looks mighty tasty. To paraphrase A Few Good Men:
Jessep: You want budget cuts? Kaffee: I think I'm entitled to them. Jessep: You want them? Kaffee: I want the cuts! Jessep: You can't handle the cuts! Son, we live in a world that needs quasi-public goods. And those needs have to be funded by men in Congress. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for small government and you curse the ballooning deficit. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that big government, while tragic, probably enriched some lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, enriches some lives...You don't want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want big government. You need big government.
UPDATE: Kevin Drum is equally cynical:
[L]et's face it: none of these cuts are very likely to happen ? and even if they did pass, everyone knows the whole thing would die in the Senate. Getting on the anti-pork bandwagon is sort of a freebie that makes you look good with only a small risk of actually having to follow through.
ANOTHER UPDATE: On second thought, maybe I'm being too pessimistic. If AEI's Veronique de Rugy is correct, then Bush has expanded nondefense discretionary spending by the greatest percentage since LBJ (link via Andrew Sullivan and Nick Gillespie). Maybe, just maybe, there's so much execrable spending that cuts are politically viable.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.