October 2004

 

Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day: The Real Deal on How Politicians, Bureaucrats, and Other Washington Barbarians Are Bankrupting America, Joe Scarborough, Harper Collins (2004).

 

Mr. Scarborough was elected to Congress in the 1994 election that saw the Republicans take control of both houses for the first time in many years.  Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republicans who had signed a “Contract with America” were riding high, but their revolution wouldn’t last long.  It’s one thing to promise term limits, it’s another to observe them when your time to step down arrives. 

 

Financial discipline is a worthy goal, but enforcing it is unpopular because government spending is a source of power and most of our political leaders and their staffs would rather spend more than less.  Consider some of the questionable programs that get funded, such as these items from the 1998 Highway Bill: $3 million spent on a film extolling the virtues of highways; $20 million directed at building roads overseas; $1.5 million to study the parking habits of truckers at their favorite truck stops; $500,000 to study sidewalks at the Kennedy Center; $2.75 million to build a smoother access road to a baseball park in Dayton, Ohio.

 

2005 Update: There were 6,371 earmarked amendments in the Federal highway bill enacted in 2005, with a combined price tag of $24 billion.  One particularly egregious example was a $230 million bridge to the Ketchikan, Alaska airport (sited on an island). After becoming known as “the bridge to nowhere,” this earmark was eventually killed – but only on the understanding that the State of Alaska could retain the funds for use as it saw fit. 

 

The author uses his own experiences to relate how “the party of Reagan” morphed within a few years into a party bent on launching new spending programs at the same time that it was cutting taxes. 

 

To “change the way Washington works,” Scarborough advocates process-related changes such as a pay freeze for representatives, senators, and White house officials until the federal budget is balanced; statutory term limits (6 years) for members of the House of Representatives; and reinstatement of the pay-go rules (new spending programs and tax cuts must be offset with spending cuts from other programs) that were allowed to expire. His suggestions might not prove a panacea, but they are well worth considering.

 

Joe Scarborough was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (R-Florida) from 1995 to 2001.