Economy / Fiscal policy / Politics

Trim the fat! Just not my fat

By Will Portman

According to a recent Gallup poll, 76% of Americans think that most members of Congress don’t deserve to be re-elected. The same poll, however, showed that a majority of Americans, 53%, think that their representative does deserve to be re-elected. The mentality seems to be something along the lines of, “Throw the bums out! Just not my bum.”

I went to a House Budget Committee Hearing today. Each member of the committee was allotted five minutes to speak about their priorities for the federal budget. Most of the Democratic members used their five minutes to advocate for maintaining current federal spending levels in their districts and home states in the context of looming cuts in discretionary spending — as one might expect. What struck me were the Republicans’ testimonies.

For the most part, the Republican members would start out by criticizing bloated federal spending programs and the massive national debt. They’d invoke the need to make large cuts and sweeping reforms. But then, nearly to a person, they’d dedicate the remainder of their time to explaining why the specific federal expenditures in their districts and home states were simply too vital to cut.

It occurred to me, after several Republican testimonies like this, that one of the reasons the government continues to spend so much more than it takes in, despite deep concerns about the country’s fiscal predicament, is the same reason incumbents keep getting reelected to Congress despite deep anger and dissatisfaction with the legislative body: we want to cut spending, or throw the bums out, more generally; but we cling to our own spending projects, or our own bums, individually.

Perhaps there’s a relationship between these two phenomena, even a vicious circle effect: representatives bring federal dollars home to their constituents, which makes their constituents like them and reelect them despite their low opinion of Congress as a whole, which in turn only reinforces the representatives’ provincial — and prodigal — spending habits.