AS a candidate for Congress, Steve Chabot vowed to slash the
federal budget. It's not surprising, then, that the freshman
Republican from Ohio fought to kill a $2 million transportation
grant to the city of Cincinnati.
But this particular crusade left many voters in Congressman
Chabot's home district downright stunned. Especially the ones who
live in Cincinnati.
In a startling break with tradition, Mr. Chabot and a handful of
fellow Republicans in Congress have devoted themselves to balancing
the federal budget - even if it means saying no to party leaders
and, on occasion, to their own constituents.
If Congress succeeds in its plan to balance the government's
books by 2002, these frugal freshmen will be remembered as the
pioneers of a new order in Washington: one that frowns on "pork" in
the federal budget and encourages cities and states to solve more
of their own costly problems.
"There is still too much pork in Congress, but we're heading in
the right direction," Chabot says. "Our goal is to convince fellow
members that this should be the new standard by which we judge
ourselves, not just voting for the parochial interests of our
Already, the pork attack has claimed a few victims. Late last
month, a group of renegade Re-publicans, including Chabot, joined
Democrats to help derail the defense spending bill.
From the outset, GOP deficit hawks had criticized the fact that
the defense bill exceeds the Pentagon's high-end budget request,
and contains added billions for dubious weapons systems that would
be produced in states and districts held by key Republicans.
According to a Washington-based watchdog group called the
Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), last year's budget
contained $10 billion in spending that, in their view, was
plain-and-simple pork. This year, however, CAGW analysts put the
pork tally at just $1 billion.
"The balanced budget has become a political icon," says Tim
Penny, a former Democratic congressman from Minnesota. "As a
result, pork-barrel spending is viewed among the greatest of sins.
These days, you'll see cities and counties demanding less of
congressmen. The longstanding relationship with the legislator who
helped bring home the bacon is a thing of the past."
To Chabot and his compatriots - among them Wisconsin's Mark
Neumann, Florida's Joe Scarborough, Indiana's David MacIntosh,
Washington's Linda Smith, and Sam Brownback of Kansas - this change
is wholly positive. Cincinnati, Chabot argues, will benefit more in
the long run from the growth and prosperity a balanced budget could
bring than it would from continued federal handouts.
One man's pork
But one person's pork barrel is another's defensible project. In
Cincinnati, many civic leaders criticized Chabot's attempt to
eliminate the transportation grants. The $666 million program,
which would allow Cincinnati and dozens of other congested cities
to study mass-transit options, was inserted in the budget last
year, before the Republicans took control of Congress. …