TCS Daily

Pool Shark

By Radley Balko - December 9, 2003 12:00 AM

The just-passed omnibus appropriations bill contains all the usual umbrage-raising pork projects we've come to expect from our Congress. Every two years, the limited government watchdogs at Citizens Against Government Waste pull the most asinine of these projects, and send out a press release that practically writes itself.

Included this year: $50 million to construct a domed, artificial rain forest in Iowa (included by Sen. Budget Chairman Charles Grassley), $725,000 for something called the "Please Touch" museum in Philadelphia, and $200,000 for "curriculum development" programs at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum. CAGW reports that the number of pork projects has increased tenfold since 1995, while the amount of spending on those projects has more than doubled.


The budget comes out every two years, and every two years, the news media picks up the most outrageous pork projects, reports them, we chuckle at them, and then we dismiss them as one of the many regrettable by-products of an otherwise bearable system -- sort of like jury duty, or Ted Kennedy.


But every now and then an example comes along that's so egregious, it puts the whole ugly system into its proper perspective. With hope, that example might also kindle a little outrage.


I'd like to nominate Rep. Jim Gibbons of Nevada to be the 2004 poster boy for outrageous pork barrel spending.


Rep. Gibbons secured $225,000 from the federal budget to clean up and maintain a pool he defaced as a kid. Now, Rep. Gibbons' procurement for his home state isn't abominable for its size -- $225,000 is a barely noticeable squib in the federal budget. Rather, Rep. Gibbons deserves derision, embarrassment and scorn for the reason he requested the money, and for his rather nonchalant dismissal of critics who questioned that reason.


Here's the story:


In the 1950s, Rep. Gibbons and some childhood friends caught wild frogs and disbursed them in the local public swimming pool in Sparks, Nevada. Those frogs' offspring later clogged the pool's drains, forcing it to be shut down.


Rep. Gibbons has apparently nursed a complex about his boyhood mischief in that pool all these years. ""I have an enormous guilty conscience for putting frogs in the swimming pool when I was about 10 years old," he told the Associated Press.


"He feels very sentimental about he pool," his communications director, Amy Spanbauer wrote via email, "the funding does not have anything to do directly with the childhood caper."


Of course, as CAGW's Tom Schatz points out, most sizeable counties in the country have a public swimming pool. Were we to grant each of them nearly a quarter-million in federal subsidies, we'd break the federal budget before we hit the Mississippi River.


But those other swimming pools don't have the advantage the Deer Park Pool has: the nagging guilt and gooey sentiment of a 4-term Congressman.


So Rep. Gibbons remains steadfast in his commitment to pork. His first reaction to the AP story, apparently, was, "everybody else is doing it" -- that if he hadn't secured the money for the Deer Park Pool, some other Congressman would have swiped it for his own district. Better Rep. Gibbons exorcise his childhood demons at taxpayer expense, apparently, than have Robert Byrd swipe it up to install cappuccino machines to the umpteenth Robert Byrd Courthouse on Robert Byrd Road in Wheeling, West Byrdginia.


Even when pressed, Rep. Gibbons saw nothing wrong with clearing his conscience on the federal dime, "This is a very meritorious project," he said, "one that I am not embarrassed about at all."


We know, Congressman. And that's precisely the problem.



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