There’s certainly nothing wrong with policymakers trying to eliminate wasteful spending, but as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) helps demonstrate, the endeavor only works when they find actual waste.
In 2009, for example, McCain used Twitter to highlight what he considered “the top 10 pork barrel projects” in the Recovery Act, which McCain described as his idea of “a lot of fun.” Some cursory research found that most of McCain’s examples weren’t wasteful at all.
In one classic example, McCain blasted “$650,000 for beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi,” asking, “How does one manage a beaver?” Hilarious. In reality, $650,000 in stimulus funds hired workers to disrupt beaver dams, which in turn prevented significant flood damage to farms, timber lands, roadways, and other infrastructure in the area. The Arizonan neglected to do his homework, and ended up blasting a worthwhile project for no reason.
In 2010, McCain did it again, releasing another list of wasteful projects, and once more McCain’s examples fell apart.
McCain is still at it, this time highlighting examples of spending he doesn’t like in the Farm Bill pending in the Senate. But as Alex Pareene explained, McCain isn’t “developing any sort of larger objection to the bill’s priorities or major components,” rather, “McCain just decided to single out the things in the bill that sound the silliest, if you are a cranky old man who doesn’t like to have to think about stuff too hard.”
[On Twitter], McCain counted down the 10 “worst projects” funded by the Farm Bill, except by almost any standard they were not at all the worst things funded by the farm bill.
Like No. 6, starting a program to eradicate feral pigs, which McCain clearly included because it involves pigs, allowing him to make a “pork” joke. Except feral pigs are actually a major (and expensive) threat to the environment and property and businesses. And, oh my, $700 million to study moth pheromones! What a waste of money! Except it’s funding the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s competitive grants program, and if you don’t think “grants for scientific research on agriculture” is something the government should be doing, you should make that argument instead of delivering scripted zingers about welfare moths on the floor of the Senate in a pathetic bid at getting some ink for your brave stand against wasteful spending.
What McCain may not realize is that he’s actually helping prove his opponents’ point. If these spending bills were so wasteful, he’d be able to come up with actual examples to bolster his argument, and the fact that he can’t suggests (a) these bills aren’t wasteful at all and (b) the senator needs a new hobby.