Friday, September 18, 2009

Random Rants--a Friday afternoon feature

From my (forever) upcoming book: The Power to Destroy.
In FY 2008, the U.S. Congress pushed through $17.2 billion in pork attached to 12 appropriations bills. There were many moments to cherish but we will consider just one here--certainly not the biggest earmark but one of the most interesting.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), a nineteen term representative, asked for and got $1,950,000 for a library and archives at the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at The City College of New York. In other words Congressman Rangel received $1.95 million dollars of my money and yours to finance a little library named for himself at a college in his district. He was challenged in his request by a mere two term republican from California, John Campbell who said, “You don’t agree with me or see any problem with us, as members, sending taxpayer funds in the creation of things named after ourselves while we’re still here?” Rangel did not. He responded, “I would have a problem if you did it, because I don’t think that you’ve been around long enough that having your name on something to inspire a building like this in a school.” Huh?
Consider now Davy Crockett's speech on the floor of the House during his first term.
Congress was considering a $10,000 relief bill to aid the widow of a naval officer. The bill was expected to pass unanimously. Crockett stood in stern opposition to the bill and said the following:

We must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not attempt to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money.

The bill was defeated and according to legend Davy Crockett contributed a substantial amount of money (though reputed to be one of the poorest members of Congress) to a private fund for the widow but was not joined by a majority of his colleagues in doing so. It seems that his contemporaries were willing to be more generous with their constituent’s money than they were with their own. Happily the citizenry was served and the widow was served by Crockett’s measured speech and accurate read of the Constitution.
Are you listening Charlie?

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