November 9, 2005
POLITICS: Ackerman Ducks The Question
You may recall my effort, in connection with the "porkbusters" campaign, to get my Congressman, Gary Ackerman, to commit to give back local pork-barrel transportation spending (including money for parking lots, sidewalks, bike racks and public parks in Queens) to help offset the cost of Hurricane Katrina. Well, yesterday I received his response, which is set forth in full in the extended entry. As you can see, Ackerman fails to even acknowledge the question; his response includes not a word about transportation funding. Instead, he scrolls through the usual hot buttons - Iraq, tax cuts, no-bid contracts, etc. - and appears to oppose any effort to cut any spending of any kind:
Thank you for contacting me to express your concerns
about the federal response to the devastation caused by Hurricanes
Katrina and Rita. Like most Americans, I have been appalled by
the incompetence and the lack of preparedness that has resulted in
so much loss of life and property.
As time goes by, it becomes increasingly clear that the
Bush Administration and the Republican Congress are more
interested in pushing their ideological imperatives than in
rebuilding the Gulf Coast of the United States. Instead of focusing
single-mindedly on helping people, the Administration wasted
valuable time and energy defending presidential cronies in
positions of power, signing no-bid contracts with corporate
contributors, removing wage protections from federal contracts,
and proposing shanty-towns instead of reconstruction for hard-hit
Even now, conservatives in Congress are ignoring the Gulf
Coast's pleas for additional federal aid while trying to use
reconstruction expenses to justify cuts to Medicaid, student loan
programs, federal housing assistance and food stamps. Their
precious tax cuts for millionaires, are, of course, off limits. The
budget can only be balanced, in this twisted world view, by
thrusting the burden on the middle class, and particularly, on the
I think it's disgraceful.
I will, of course, continue to do all that I can to fight
against these heartless policies for the benefit of the people of the
Gulf Coast and the entire United States. To be clear: We can do
better. There is no reason at all why FEMA shouldn't perform at
the levels seen during the 1990s, when professionals were in
charge, and there is no reason for spending hundreds of billions in
Iraq and giving short shrift to our own Gulf Coast.
I appreciate you taking the time to share your views with
me about this painful episode and ongoing problem for our nation.
Of course, if I can be of any further assistance, please do not
hesitate to contact me.
That's a funny response. Obviously he read as much of your letter (past the Dear Congressman Ackerman part) as he read of War & Peace that morning. Are you surprised?
Ackerman's my congressman too. What's funny is that not only are these projects congressional pork, based on tax dollars that would be better allocated locally, but in many communities, the locals don't want this crap. Go to Flushing and you'll see that the community there is completely against the giant municiple parking garage that's being built. Their tax dollars leaving the community, going to DC, where they are approriated back for projects that the tax payers don't want.
As a former congressional staffer dealing with constituent services, let me give you a little inside info. You recieved a form letter. Duo to the massive amount of mail our elected representatives receive, they have generic letters (written by staffers, who are from 22-30 years old typically) for any given topic. I highly doubt the congressman even read your letter. Most likely, the letter was received at his office and a staffer had to place it in a generic category and he/she chose "federal response to hurricane katrina.doc" (or whatever they have it filed under). Then your letter was printed, placed in the outgoing mail bin and may or may not have been signed by the congressman. As a constituent it can be frustrating, but there is no way a congressman can personalize each letter and still perform the rest of his/her duties.
Yeah, having sat on that side of the ledger I'm well aware of how the process works.
I think most of us understand that the Rep/Senator isnt' directly responding.
But that actually makes it worse, in a way. If the representative were having to do that, of course there would be form letters of generic benefit, and they'd never have a chance to modify them.
But the staffers have the ability to look at the email, and check the request to make sure that it's at least tangentially in response. If they're not - then, well, it's taxation without representation, so to speak. If the office can't be bothered to actually find out what constitutants want, then the system has failed.
You expected MORE than that from Ackerman? One of the last of the Manes machine in Queens? The guy who used the fact that he used to publish the local neighborhood papers to give himself a name, to get elected to city councel, as a stepping stone? That Ackerman?
The trouble with going after pork is the idea of unilateral disarmament. Most back benchers, like Ackerman, have nothing to show for their time in office. They don't author any important legislation, or head any important committees.
So being able to say that they were responsible for a new post office or road improvement is about all they can point to at re-election time.
As things now stand if one should opt out of the game he would be accused by an opponent of "not doing anything for the local community."
There doesn't seem any way to change this in the near future. Dispensing pork allowances is how the leadership keeps their troops in line. They are not going to give up this power either.
I would be interested in hearing any practical ideas that good government types have to effect change.
Good comments, Rob. I can't really think of any solution short of putting DC on a diet. Unfortunately, tax revenues are not the only source of its profligate spending. The Fed pretty much just prints money at will. And, you may have noticed, the Fed will STOP releasing M3 data in March, 2006.