McCain this week railed against the pork in the latest budget. If he'd run as this McCain, I might have voted for him; instead he tossed aside every limited government idea he ever had to support last fall's bank bailout before he'd ever seen the bill.
One of the items in the budget McCain ridiculed was $650,000 for beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi. David Price, my congressman here in NC, is responsible for the earmark, and today's paper carried his impassioned defense of the importance of beaver management.
In an odd coincidence, I've lived in both North Carolina and Mississippi, and these are the only two states where I've ever seen a beaver dam. I'm going walking later today, and the last time I went a little off trail I found two beaver dams on the same stream. The banks of the Eno are lined with trees and branches showing the handiwork of beavers who, I have to say, frequently chew off more than they can bite.
The damns can cause flooding, so I can see why it's important that somebody take control and remove potentially harmful dams. And, I can also admit that $650,000 is a really trivial amount of money as far as the federal government goes. It's, what, five or six toilet seats for the space shuttle?
But, here's the larger issue: It doesn't matter if it's not much money, or if it's a good cause. If it's in the federal budget, it should be for a project of national importance. How, exactly, is a person in Nevada benifited by having even a fraction of a penny of their tax dollars go to beaver management? Conversely, if there's money in the budget for managing Mormon crickets (which there is), how does this benefit me in North Carolina? (On a side note, the existence of Mormon crickets is a real testament to the persistance of Mormon missionaries, isn't it? I also thought I'd have a praying mantis joke here, but it turns out I don't.)
I can't speak for Mississippi, but North Carolina isn't a poor state. There are houses within a mile of me that sell for more than $650,000. If the people of North Carolina want to manage their beavers, we should hassle our state government to do the job. We could pay for the cost of the whole thing by issuing a "Busy Beaver" scratch off ticket through the state lottery.
Once you decide that it's appropriate to spend federal taxes on limited, local problems that are well within the scopes of local governments to pay for, what are the limits to federal spending? If you start funding beaver management, the day will come when you fund Elvis museums and gene-mapping for tobacco and rescue plans for car companies. It's the slippery slope argument--except that the slippery slope is often a fallacy, but in this case we're already sliding down the slope, full speed toward the cliff.
Is there no one left to put on the brakes?