The recent events surrounding Congressman Alan Grayson (D-Fl) and his $50M vote for the ACES Bill in the House of Representatives are a profound example of what is wrong in our republic. It seems that Congressman Grayson sold his “Aye” vote to Nancy Pelosi in return for a $50M hurricane research center to be built near Orlando, Fl. His local newspaper, The Orlando Sentinal, characterizes the center as A Category 5 Waste.
While hurricane research is something that Florida has valid self-interest in appealing for help and support on, it turns out the Grayson project is a bogus pork BBQ platter for several reasons. The Congressman claims making Orlando an epicenter of hurricane research would vitally aid NOAA in performing its mission. The Congressman claims that the center could conveniently tie in to UCF and bolster their Earth Sciences curriculum.
Both of these justifications become shaky, once the underlying facts are examined. NOAA has already heavily invested in a hurricane center at Miami. This is a world-class facility and already has attracted researchers to Miami University from all over the globe. Florida State also heavily invests in tropical cyclone research. Florida already competes against specialists in Japan and India to produce some of the best, cutting-edge tropical storm science getting written. The Orlando Center would be a nice-to-have, not a drop-dead necessity.
Another problem arises because UCF has yet to even offer a degree in Meteorology. The school does pursue Earth Sciences research, but given the established dominance of Miami U and FSU, it competes where comparative advantage can leverage research dollars. According to the Orlando Sun, UCF has other research priorities on its plate.
UCF’s seeking funding for research into alternative energy, like solar and biomass; and into biomedical research. Mr. Grayson’s unresponsiveness, however, has caused UCF to work instead with long-time Congresswoman Corrine Brown and newcomer Suzanne Kosmas to get research money.
Finally, the Sun Sentinel questions Congressman Grayson’s commitment to the cause of combating Global Warming. They want to know why he withheld support to the bill, until he got his earmark. This, in itself, is a revelation.
There are three possibilities at work here, and none bear good omen for the future of American government. Congressman Grayson could have wanted the hurricane center in Orlando and not cared how he got it done. He could have been totally mercenary on Climate Change Issues and was just waiting for the right bribe, or he could have known all along he was a “yes” on the bill, but also have made a cynical decision that he would hide this fact and go seek some rent on a close and urgent vote.
If Congressman Grayson latched on to the hurricane center in Orlando as a project, there are vastly more meritorious and useful ways to go about getting it than snagging an earmark on the debate floor. He could have spoken with NOAA and UCF and built a serious proposal. He could then pitch this to both the House Appropriations Committee and the OMB.
He has a much greater chance of winning over Charlie Rangel if the Hurricane Center shows up in BOTH the Presbud2010 and a committee mark-up. Plus, the Senate Appropriations Committee would field a request for this center from President Obama, not just an obscure, back-bench legislator from Central Florida. This failure suggests that Congressman Grayson lacks an effective understanding of how to acquire and manage Federal funding.
Congressman Grayson, like many others in the House, could be a vote for sale on many issues. He could have approached this entire issue from a self-centered, “I’m getting mine!” point of entry. Peggy Noonan’s almost poetic OP-ED “A Separate Peace” described the motivations driving this sort of creepy, sabotaging thought process.
I suspect that history, including great historical novelists of the future, will look back and see that many of our elites simply decided to enjoy their lives while they waited for the next chapter of trouble. And that they consciously, or unconsciously, took grim comfort in this thought: I got mine. Which is what the separate peace comes down to, “I got mine, you get yours.”
If Congressman Grayson were thinking this way, and got called on it, he would yell in your face that everyone else does it. He would justify his behavior through the deprecations of others and laugh behind his hand at anyone who naively suggested that we had a patriotic duty to ever clean up the whore-house. In that light, Congressman Grayson could have voted the other way if Exxon Mobil had shown up to build a fat, honking pipeline through the Everglades. Think of all the jobs! Jobs! Jobs!
Finally, and perhaps the most disturbing possibility of all, Congressman Grayson could have been already committed to a “Yes” vote. But then, he saw the opportunity to seek a $50M rent. This implies that the United States Congress has developed a certain viscosity because of the earmark culture of “Baksheesh.”
Blogger Fred Reed, before his tragic veering a larboard, described well what this rent-seeking did to the function of third-world economies. His post “Half-Assed in Haggledom” posits the following.
Start with corruption. In many poor countries, virtually everything is for sale. You can bribe the cops to get out of a ticket or bribe them to beat up an enemy, bribe a general in the army to overlook illegal logging, bribe anybody to do anything. The result is that really the country barely has laws, which means that you can never be sure of your legal ground. Businesses need predictability.
Corruption exists in advanced countries, but there is less of it, and it tends to take organized form, as in campaign contributions, affirmative action, and seats of boards of directors after leaving office.
Suspected Economic Law: The easier it is to bribe a working-stiff cop, the poorer the country.
If you imagine a similar process at work in the Congress, with earmarks as serving as a medium of exchange, then the ability of Congress to do its job gets impeded by a viscous drag. The proponents of the next good idea not only have to win hearts and minds, they have to buy those hearts and minds off with taxpayer-funded door prizes. They have to pay out “personal services” fees in return for those “yea” votes.
My corollary to Fred’s Hypothesis would be the following: The more earmarks the average Member of Congressman requires to vote for something that she or he would have willingly supported on ideology or logic, the less likely the US Congress is to ever pass a difficult, controversial, yet vital piece of legislation. A Congress where the Speaker and the Whips have to buy their friends, is a Congress that is beyond dysfunction.