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Robert Houk

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Obamacare, tracing pork and shrinking tax dollars

September 30th, 2013 9:10 am by Robert Houk

Obamacare, tracing pork and shrinking tax dollars

The idea of linking defunding Obamacare to passage of a stopgap spending bill has been called “silly” by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, said it would be “nearly impossible” to defund the Affordable Health Care Act as the law is currently written.
Still, Republicans who sip the tea are determined to shut down the federal government unless they get their way. Their GOP colleagues will go along for the ride out of fear that they will be challenged in the next primary. It’s an interesting strategy that could come back to bite Republicans in the midterm elections. Or maybe not.
Remember just a few years ago, Americans were supposed to be so frustrated with special “earmarks” included in the federal budget. These earmarks were for “pork barrel” projects in various congressional districts.
Pork barrel politics have been with us ever since members of Congress discovered that tax revenues could be returned conveniently to their districts in election years. It’s the engine that has made the wheels of U.S. government turn for more than 200 years. And while idealists have routinely railed against this concept as an attack on our unique democracy, the pork still flows from Capitol Hill and from statehouses across the nation. It’s just not as obvious these days.

Years ago, the late GOP Congressman Jimmy Quillen consistently voted against federal “give-away” programs of the Democrats in Washington. It was what a fiscal conservative from the 1st District of Upper East Tennessee was supposed to do. Funny thing, however, Quillen always seemed to be first in line when it was time to distribute the funds from those liberal programs.
While Jimmy voted against government cheese, he was insistent that his constituents receive their fair share of government cheese once it was handed out. Quillen knew there was an old saying in Washington: “Pork is government funding that goes to districts other than your own.”
Was it ideological hypocrisy? Yes, it was. Was it good politics? Yes, without a doubt. And he kept the folks on both sides happy.
For the record, Quillen served more consecutive terms in Congress than any other Tennessean. I guess he knew what he was doing.
There’s another cold hard truth when it comes to the federal budget that the folks in Congress often fail to acknowledge. There is a pecking order when it comes to divvying up tax revenues. Mandates for services flow down from Washington to state governments before they are passed on to local governments.
Tax revenues, however, tend to flow the opposite way, with the entities at the top keeping most of the money — it’s good to be Uncle Sam.
It’s hard, however, being a bottom feeder. That’s particularly true for counties that have seen their sales tax bases nibbled away by equally hungry municipalities.
Property taxes are the primary way counties raise revenues in Tennessee, but increasing property tax is something most county commissioners — particularly those who want to be re-elected next year — are reluctant to do.

Robert Houk is Opinion  page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.

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