Saturday, March 05, 2005


No matter how much lawmakers defend the pork barrel and try to make it look good, it may be forever destined to be looked down upon with disdain.

In US politics, the term "pork barrel" alone is derogatory simply because of its origin.

According to news network C-SPAN, which reports on the US government, "pork barrel" came into use as a political term after the US Civil War. "It comes from the plantation practice of distributing rations of salt pork to slaves from wooden barrels. When used to describe a bill, it implies the legislation is loaded with special projects for members of Congress to distribute to their constituents back home as an act of largesse, courtesy of the federal taxpayer," it said in its website.

Paul Johnson, of Auburn University’s department of political science, was academic.

He defined "pork barrel" or "pork barrel legislation" as "appropriations of public funds by Congress (or other legislative assemblies) for projects that do not serve the interests of any large portion of the country’s citizenry but are nevertheless vigorously promoted by a small group of legislators because they will pump outside taxpayer’s money and resources into local districts these legislators represent."

And the lawmakers’ constituents are not the only ones who stand to benefit. "Successful promotion of such pork-barrel legislation is very likely to get the legislator re-elected by his constituents," Johnson said. is brutally frank, defining pork barrel as "a government project or appropriation that yields jobs or other benefits to a specific locale and patronage opportunities to its political representative" or "a legislative appropriation designed to ingratiate legislators with their constituents."

While lawmakers are the primary beneficiaries, presidents can also use pork barrel funds as a leverage to ensure congressional support for the administration’s proposed legislation.

In 1817, US lawmaker John Calhoun introduced the Bonus Bill that sought funding for highways linking the east and south of the United States to its western frontier using the earnings bonus of the Second Bank of the United States.

US President James Madison, however, vetoed the bill as unconstitutional. Since then US presidents have seen the pork barrel’s use as an instrument of political persuasion to ensure congressional support for their priority legislation.

That explains why the Arroyo administration — for all its avowed determination to bring down the chronic budget deficit — is hesitant to abolish the pork barrel, listed in the national budget as priority development assistance funds.

In the Philippine setting, lawmakers may have no need to pass pork barrel legislation because funds for such are already included in the administration’s annual budget outlay.

All they have to do is keep it in the budget to ensure the pork barrel keeps rolling out.
Note: because of this, congress now calls pork barrel as PDAF meaning Priority Development Assistance Fund

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