BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Brian Kelly, author of Adventures in Porkland, what's the difference between the gas Congress and the money Congress?
BRIAN KELLY, AUTHOR, "ADVENTURES IN PORKLAND:" The gas Congress are the talkers. The gas Congress are the guys who take up so much of this time on C-SPAN, talking about some things that are important and some things that are not, but they're public. They're the guys who like to be out front. The money Congress are the guys who would prefer to be behind closed doors, and their business is spending the money, writing the bills and sometimes keeping a little bit for themselves.
LAMB: Name a couple of people from the gas Congress.
KELLY: Well, like Bob Dole, one of my favorites, I suppose; Phil Gramm, always out front with something; Ted Kennedy, and Al Gore in his day. He's gone beyond that, I suppose.
LAMB: Is the gas Congress at all interested in the money Congress?
KELLY: Certainly there's some intersections. I think anybody who can get into the money Congress would love to be there, but I think you do have some people on Capitol Hill with very different intentions. Some people come up here more for the public policy side of thing, whether it's ego or genuine interest. Money on Capitol Hill seems to me to be a very specific discipline. These are people who are, for good or bad, dedicated to that business.
LAMB: Who are some of the money Congress?
KELLY: Well, Bob Byrd, of course, at the top of the list. But some of the more obscure folks like Jamie Whitten, John Murtha from Pennsylvania, Joe McDade. Mark Hatfield, I guess, a guy who's maybe got one foot in both sides of it. Al D'Amato, a guy with a pretty good understanding of the way money works but also not too shy in front of a TV camera. And then you can work down the list of particularly the House Appropriations Committee, the College of Cardinals, the subcommittee chairmen and people like Bill Lehman, for instance, or Neal Smith from Iowa. Most people have rarely if ever seen these guys unless they maybe they put them in office.
LAMB: How do they get to be a member of the College of Cardinals? How many are there, by the way, in that group?
KELLY: Well, the College is the Appropriation Committees in the House and Senate, so you've got the 13 subcommittee chairmen of each, and the ranking Republicans sometimes are considered honorary members, depending on how friendly they are with the chairman, I suppose. It's like any of the committees; I mean, one of the most sought-after committees, certainly, on Capitol Hill. These are people who lobby hard for these jobs. Seniority obviously plays a very key role in this, but not the only role. The reason they call them the College of Cardinals, I guess it's really a term of fear and respect because of the prominence that they exercise over the process. If you are the chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee and the Appropriations Committee in the House, as Jamie Whitten is, they call him the permanent secretary of agriculture. These are the guys who really control that function of government.
LAMB: Somewhere in your book you say that the USS Kennedy and its relationship to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard is the $700 million toilet seat. What are you talking about?
KELLY: I tell the story in there of the Philadelphia Shipyard and the Kennedy, which happened a year ago in the spring. This was a classic case of pork-barreling. It was the supplemental appropriations bill -- the dire emergency supplemental appropriations bill after Desert Storm. The idea was, we had had this major military emergency, we had some extra bills, and we were going to have to pay some of these bills. Well, among the other things that ended up in that bill, as they often do, was a line which said that Congress would have to rehab the USS Kennedy, the nuclear aircraft carrier.
That's all it said -- a simple line inserted in the bill. Kennedy had nothing to do with Desert Storm, there was no emergency here, but it was in the bill. What it turned out to be was, the only place the Kennedy could be rehabbed was the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard which was scheduled to be closed. If you forced Congress to rehab the Kennedy you therefore had to do it at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. The Pentagon didn't want this done. They wanted to close the shipyard and they didn't want to rehab the Kennedy, but once you put those pieces together you were going to cause the taxpayers to pay an extra $700 million to rehab the ship, to keep open the Philadelphia naval yard against the Pentagon's wishes. Thus the $700 million toilet seat.
LAMB: What happened to it?
KELLY: A classic case of tactics on the floor as well. Dan Coats from Indiana spied this item in the bill. It's often hard to find this pork as it's moving down the track; it moves pretty fast and whips out of the committees very rapidly. But here was a case where he knew it was coming, saw it, raised a stink on the floor, made a very impassioned argument to his fellow senators that this had no business going through. It was a classic pork barrel project. The delegation from Pennsylvania was trying to save the shipyard. He said, "Let's show some courage here. Let's step up and say this is spending that we don't need."
That's a speech that's delivered many times in the Senate and the House, increasingly, I suppose. Remarkably, though, his fellows agreed with him. When they cast the vote, much to the surprise of a lot of people on the Senate floor, the motion passed. The amendment to strike this out was approved. The way the process works, of course, the next day there is a conference committee. The House had kept the item in, and literally this was midnight. Sometimes it's too good to be true, but literally at the stroke of midnight, in a conference committee behind closed doors, the item was simply written back into the bill. John Murtha from Pennsylvania and Joe McDade from Pennsylvania both sat on that conference committee. They were intent on keeping it in there. Dan Inouye and Ted Stevens were the ranking Senate members on defense appropriations. They had no particular interest in fighting this issue. The item got put back in.
The next day, Friday -- the day before the Easter recess -- Dan Coats finally at the last minute discovers that, in fact, it has been put back in, literally can't find the people who voted with him in the first place. They've all gone for vacation, left for recess, or in some cases they said, "Come on, Dan, we gave you your vote, but there's no way that we're really going to fight this thing to the death," and it sailed through and was signed into law. At this point we're getting ready to rehab the Kennedy for $700 million more than the Pentagon wants to spend.
LAMB: At the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard?
KELLY: Yes, of course.
LAMB: Wasn't the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard a part of that shutdown?
KELLY: Well, it was on the base-closing commission list, but part of what they're trying to do with the Kennedy is, of course, at the very least the yard won't be closed down until the Kennedy project is completed. So they've bought themselves another three or four years of staying open, even if it maintains its position on that list and they do actually intend to close it.
LAMB: The Kennedy doesn't need to be rehabbed?
KELLY: The Pentagon says no. They were going to do some minor work on it to bring it up to serviceable status, although it's a ship that they were prepared to mothball fairly soon.
LAMB: The Pentagon that runs this ship says it does not need to be rehabilitated or rebuilt?
LAMB: And the Congress has put money in that says it's got to be?
LAMB: How often does that happen?
KELLY: Often, particularly in the area of defense. People like Murtha, McDade, Inouye, Stevens -- people who exercise tremendous influence over the defense budget -- view themselves as a mini-Pentagon. They make decisions which theoretically affect national security. They will often say these are decisions based on national security concerns when in fact there's always an explanation a little more parochial than that, the National Guard being a great case in point. Murtha has staked out his role as a defender of the National Guard. We are cutting back vastly in military projects across the country, reducing the size of the forces enormously, yet the National Guard maintains its strength principally because John Murtha says this is the way it has to be, "I'm going to keep the National Guard at full strength."
LAMB: You say that one of the efforts on the part of Congress and Murtha is to get a private plane for each National Guard commander for each state?
KELLY: Right. He has been working on this for a number of years. He's buying these sophisticated, executive-type jets. I don't know quite how far along he is at this point. He's run into some trouble on that in the last year, but had been setting out to have the Pentagon buy these planes and offer them for the use of the National Guard commanders.
LAMB: In the history of this network, after lots and lots of requests, John Murtha has never been in this studio, never done a call-in show and never done an interview. Can you give us any background on why he doesn't talk to the national media?
KELLY: I'm not surprised to hear that. That is the method of operation of so many of these folks in the money Congress. Their attitude is that national publicity does them no good. They exist in a completely parochial realm. Their idea is, what can I get for the folks back home, for my constituents, whether it's the actual voters back there, whether it's certain special interests or, in the case of some of these guys, it's a national constituency of special interests. But in any event, it does them no good to talk to the general public about what it is that they're up to. This is the classic case of congressmen who will refuse to be interviewed on the subject of some bill that's passed. Meanwhile they go back to their offices and busily put together a press release saying to the folks back home, "Here are the 10 things that I just got for you." They give it to the local media, but they never give it to the Washington Post or the New York Times.
LAMB: Let me hold this up and ask you about this cover. Right under your name down here you say, "This is illustrated by Pat Oliphant," and you've got the pig with a saber in his hand, or her hand.
KELLY: A carving knife.
LAMB: A carving knife, excuse me. Go right up to the top of the dome of the Capitol, and you have another little pig up here. Then you have this subhead, “How Washington Wastes Your Money and Why They Won't Stop.” Are you saying this will never stop?
KELLY: No, I'm not saying that it will never stop. They won't stop right now unless somebody makes them stop, ultimately. I think a lot of this comes back to the voters. I'm not one of those people who will buy the argument made on Capitol Hill that "we're just doing what the voters want us to do. That's why we're bringing home all this pork. That's why we're doing all of this spending." I think that we could see a lot more political courage being exercised on Capitol Hill, and we'd all be better off for it. But at the same time I think that people in this country, if they understood what a lot of this spending was about -- if they understood pork, if they understood that it wasn't a free lunch, that is wasn't a necessary part of the process as some people will argue that it is -- I think they'd get mad about this.
I think they would get increasingly active in the process. As we've seen with Ross Perot, a lot of the Perot voters were very much about people getting energized and angry about spending. They would let people on Capitol Hill hear about this and say, "Stop trying to buy me a free lunch or hand me a free lunch when I know it's not free. Start spending this money as if it were your money. Start spending with the idea that if you don't have it you can't spend it," which is a theory which has completely gone to hell in Washington. I think we would see a response. I think we have seen evidence in the last few months that the tide of spending can flow both ways. We've seen evidence of some things happening that cut out spending, and we've also seen the spending come back in. So no, I don't think it's hopeless at all, but I don't think it's an easily solved problem.
LAMB: I want to hold this up so the camera can get a shot of it. This is a postcard, the same thing as the cover of the book, and the postcard says, "A message to Congress from a reader of Adventures in Porkland: I have just read Adventures in Porkland by Brian Kelly, an eye-opening report on the mismaking of the national budget, and I am alarmed and angry by the incredible amount of waste that goes into the budget of this country. As a concerned citizen I am demanding that you, an elected official, do everything in your power to stop this abuse and put the money where it is really needed." I found this card in the book itself. Does this come with all the books?
KELLY: It does, yes. My publisher is Villard Books, part of Random House, and they had the idea to put our money where our mouth is. We're saying to people, "Get involved here. Be heard. Get the message out." They said, "We'll spend a few bucks and put a postcard in there, and we'll give people an opportunity to do it." Not that I'm expecting millions of these postcard to descend on Capitol Hill, although I'd love it.
LAMB: Have any of them been sent yet?
KELLY: Oh, yes. I've heard from a few members up there who have told me they've gotten some cards. The book's been out a few weeks now, and I'm hopeful that it will get more of a hearing on this and people will respond to this. They don't have to send that postcard in. They can send their own postcard in. They can pick up the phone. The point we're trying to make is to get activated here. Get involved in this process. Understand what it's about. Understand spending. People have to start to look at spending questions a lot more seriously. The average voter has to educate himself on this. It's not magical. It's not like trying to learn trigonometry in grammar school. People can learn this.
I always make the analogy with the nuclear arms race a few years ago. This was this incredibly complicated world of megatonnage and mutually assured destruction. A lot of people got themselves educated on that subject, and they said, "This is wrong. We've got to stop this. We've got to put our own voices out there and see if we can effect some change," and they did. People got very educated on nuclear weapons. Well, that problem is largely diminished now. I think the nuclear weapons of the '90s are going to be the whole budget mess. I think the more people can understand and the more they can engage themselves in the process and be heard, the better it's going to be for all of us.
LAMB: When did you first get the idea of this book?
KELLY: I was reading a story in the Washington Post about the Lawrence Welk Museum. It was in the fall of 1990, after the budget compromise -- some would say the budget fiasco. Government had shut down. Bush raised taxes. I think there were genuine concerns that the system had really spun out of control.
LAMB: Where were you then?
KELLY: I was then the editor of Regardie's here in Washington.
LAMB: What's Regardie's?
KELLY: Regardie's is a monthly magazine of business and politics circulating in the Washington area. I'd been the editor there since about 1985.
LAMB: Could it be categorized as irreverent?
KELLY: I think that might be a fair characterization, sure. We have always tried to do some stories about the way Washington works with a certain attitude attached to them. We're non-partisan, but we tend to poke fun at either side when we see the opportunities, sure.
LAMB: Why did you leave there, and when did you leave there?
KELLY: I left Regardie's earlier this year. The magazine has fallen on some fairly hard financial times and has gone to a bimonthly schedule andreally scaled back considerably. I joined the Washington Post as an editor earlier this year.
LAMB: What do you do at the Post?
KELLY: I'm the political editor of the Style section, so we do the longer take-outs, the profiles and things about Washington characters, candidates, whatever.
LAMB: Where are you from originally?
KELLY: Born in New Jersey, went to school here in Washington at Georgetown University. I started my career in journalism in Chicago. I worked for the Sun-Times out there as a political writer, covering Chicago -- the city and the craziness out there. Politics is kind of covered like sports out there. It's a contact sport. I worked for the Tribune briefly, and then freelance worked on a few other books and came out here to work for Regardie's in 1985.
LAMB: What was the thing that drew you to Regardie's?
KELLY: Just a fascinating opportunity, I think, to get into the Washington journalism world. It was, as you say, an irreverent magazine. In its day, I guess, we had huge issues of 200 or 300 pages. We were able to attract some really good writers and had a very open franchise in Washington. We didn't have to cover anything. We didn't have to be the Post or the Times. It allowed us the opportunity to do some longer pieces, take some longer looks at people and events in this town and have some fun with it, so it was a great chance.
LAMB: Is it safe to assume that at some time while you were there you beat up on the Washington Post?
KELLY: I'm sure the Post came in for a barb or two. Yes, we were absolutely non-denominational. There were times when we thought the Post was up to some silliness, and we didn't hesitate to let them know about it.
LAMB: Did that hurt you when you went looking for a job?
KELLY: No one ever mentioned it -- well, I suppose a few people mentioned it. They kind of nodded and smiled and said, "Gee, what are you doing here?" But they were pretty good about. It's a big place, and they seemed to be able to accept criticism reasonably well.
LAMB: Page 62, and it's the chapter, "Bafflegab in Darmanland." What's that?
KELLY: Bafflegab is a phrase from Alice in Wonderland which is where I borrowed the title. It struck me as I moved my way through the money Congress that this really was a strange world of odd language and indecipherable doings, Darman being a great case in point --Bush's budget director who I write about at great length in the book and, I suppose, somewhat critically. Bafflegab in Darmanland was when I first encountered Darman talking about the budget and why we had this enormous deficit problem, but it wasn't really a deficit and the problem was actually solving itself and we didn't need to worry about it because of the charts and the lines. It was a press conference where he brought out all of these bar graphs and flow charts and gave this just amazing performance that left me feeling like I had had my pocket picked.
It was at that point that I thought to myself that there's an unreal quality to all of this. The average person watching this can't possibly be making any sense out of this. One of the things that I set out to do was to try to make some sense out of the whole question of the deficit and the way money is spent here. The notion of bafflegab just stuck in my mind as the only way to really explain it.
LAMB: Let me read a little bit: "Richard Darman must have been a happy man that morning in early February of 1991. As he shaved and dressed in his spectacular home on a five-acre lot overlooking the Potomac in Virginia, he knew he'd be holding center stage in a few hours, doing what he liked best. Perhaps he took a little more time to craft his appearance of carelessness." Let me just read a little bit more because I want to ask you a direct question. "As he drove down the George Washington Parkway to his office next to the White House that frosty morning, the sun rose behind the Capitol dome and cast a soft, pink light on the ranks of pale limestone buildings." Were you with him?
KELLY: No. I knew he drove to work, and I had, in fact, driven in at the same time so I took a little literary license. And I qualified it. I said "assuming this is what he saw." But this was a press conference when he revealed the budget, and I was there watching the whole show.
LAMB: The reason I ask you that is I just couldn't figure whether you'd actually met him at home and rode down that George Washington Parkway.
KELLY: No. Sometimes I think you have to take a little -- I didn't want this to be a textbook, you know. It deals with some serious subjects, but I wanted to at least give people a little of the flavor of the characters and how they lived. It's all been reported, but some of it not firsthand.
LAMB: You also talk about the budget summit at Andrews Air Force Base in some of the same chapters along here and you write up the speech of Bob Byrd at that event. Now, that was all behind closed doors, right?
LAMB: All off the record.
KELLY: There was no press there, right.
LAMB: You write up that speech word for word about what he said behind closed doors about everything from Alexis de Tocqueville to Philistines and on and on. How did you get that?
KELLY: It turns out that Byrd gave the same speech -- he was so happy with himself -- on the floor of Congress, and it was in the Congressional Record. I checked with his staff people, and they confirmed, in fact, that it was the same talk that he had given. I then interviewed a number of other people who had been in the room and checked back the substance of it. Fortunately, in Byrd's case he gives the same speech many times. He had a particular version of events that he offers as to why we need all of this spending, and it's often not new phrasing.
LAMB: By the way, before we go any further, what is pork barrel politics? Where does the word pork barrel come from?
KELLY: Pork barrel goes back to the early 19th century. During the days of slavery, the plantation owners would bring a big barrel filled with pieces of salt pork out to the field at lunch time, and the slaves would rush the pork barrel to grab the lunch -- the biggest pieces they could get their hands on. And someone, a journalist lost to history, once made the analogy that watching congressmen grab federal dollars for local projects was like watching slaves rush the pork barrel. Since then, 150 years ago, the phrase has been one of those great words of Capitol Hill, like cloture and logrolling and gerrymandering.
LAMB: Did anybody confront you from Capitol Hill saying this book was a bad idea?
KELLY: No, not yet. It's early, I suppose.
LAMB: Is anybody mad at you for the book?
KELLY: None that I've heard of. It's the point you make about a lot of these guys keeping a pretty low profile. I guess it doesn't surprise me. Pork barreling is almost the dirty little secret on Capitol Hill. The folks who do it will justify it with a variety of reasons. They'll claim that it's necessary federal spending, they'll claim that it's part of the process, they'll claim that Congress is an imperfect system and this is the way they smooth out the wrinkles. But almost none of them will talk about it publicly.
I made numerous attempts to interview a lot of the people in there and found it very difficult. Often I would get staffers to talk off the record. The Appropriations Committee is really run like a secret society almost. I think one of the great outrages of this is that this is one of the absolute most powerful institutions in the government, yet they feel absolutely no reason, no necessity at all, to make any of their actions public or discuss publicly what it is that they do; Bob Byrd being a great case in point. Bob Byrd is arrogant enough to feel that he has no need to deal with the national media at all. He will occasionally talk to a local West Virginia reporter, to crow about the latest thing that he's brought back home, but here's a man who thinks of himself as a statesman yet and behaves like a petty ward politician.
LAMB: You sound like, though, when you read the book that you have at some times admiration for Bob Byrd.
KELLY: Well, I do. I find Byrd to be a fascinating figure, an absolutely complicated American original. I spent a great deal of time looking at Byrd and his background. I traveled back to his hometown, in fact. I found the little, tiny coal hollow that he grew up in, and it's a great Horatio Alger story that started in this little sump of a town along the railroad tracks in coal-mining country in the depths of West Virginia. He picked himself up by his bootstraps, literally. The clich‚ is true. He educated himself -- he's a brilliant man -- and got himself to Capitol Hill to one of the most powerful positions; I would argue maybe the most powerful man on Capitol Hill right now.
Along the way I think Byrd may have lost some of the idealism that might have fueled him in the first place. I mean, this is a man who set Abraham Lincoln out as his model, a man who accumulated all the tools of power on Capitol Hill. He knows how that place works probably better than anyone; certainly better than anyone today and maybe as well as anyone ever. Byrd knows how to get things done, but to what end does he use his power? To grabbing off a couple of train loads of goodies to bring back to West Virginia. It is, I think, a political tragedy in many senses. I think there's a lot to like about Byrd, a lot of admirable qualities, but at the same time, at a time when we need leaders, what do we get out of the most powerful man on Capitol Hill? Petty politics.
LAMB: Say I'm sitting out there in West Virginia watching this and hear you say that, and my reaction is, "Bob Byrd has brought that money right back here to this state. That's why we send him to Washington." When we speak of money, what are some of the things that he's brought back there?
KELLY: Byrd has brought just enormous numbers of highways. That's been one of his big initiatives -- four-lane highways in towns in obscure areas of West Virginia that don't even have traffic lights. He has brought huge chunks of the federal government to West Virginia and forced agencies to relocate throughout the state. He has built the National Federal Wildlife Service. He's building a giant new training facility in Harper's Ferry, complete with a new National Aquarium which, of course, is an hour away from the old National Aquarium in Baltimore -- not the old one, the perfectly good National Aquarium in Baltimore. West Virginia has a declining veteran population, but Byrd is building new veterans hospitals in West Virginia. He took federal HUD low-income housing dollars to rehab a movie theater in Huntington, West Virginia. There's sort of an endless list, which has been totaled up. I totaled it up in the book. It's more than a billion dollars of projects ...
LAMB: A year?
KELLY: ... above and beyond. In the first two years as Appropriations chairman he's gotten about a billion, and he's well into the second billion at this point.
LAMB: But again, if I were a West Virginian, wouldn't I say, "That's fabulous!"?
KELLY: You would say that, which is the core of the problem, I would argue -- the core of the spending problem here. What that represents is the politics of greed. It represents the attitude, "My congressman is a bag man. He's not a national representative. His job is to go to Washington and grab all the goodies he can get." That makes a certain logical sense. It's human nature. I think it's wasteful, as we see, and it's not free, as I also explain in the book. People think, "This is great, I'm getting this for nothing." I got a wonderful phone call from a guy from West Virginia the other day. He said, "You know, there's a new bridge not too far from where I am. Byrd got this thing. I was looking at it, and I was thinking to myself, 'Byrd got this bridge, but the economy is such a wreck I can't afford a car to drive over it.'"
That, I think, is what happens with pork. You have a lot of petty projects that add up. The philosophy is the same behind a lot of big projects. All of them get heaped on the federal budget deficit, which I think economists have universally concluded is dragging the economy severely right now. We are not getting these for free. The people in West Virginia are paying tax dollars for the project Bob Byrd gets, and they're paying for the projects Bob Byrd gives out. They're paying for the Red River waterway in Louisiana. They're paying for Al D'Amato's hyperexpensive subway system in Buffalo, New Year. They're paying for all those things.
LAMB: What did you say about the subway system, the cost of it?
KELLY: It's $47 to $67 a passenger for the Buffalo subway system, and the thought occurred to me that it would be cheaper to pick people up with limousines and take them to work than it would to put them on that subway system.
LAMB: He's a Republican.
KELLY: D'Amato's a Republican, right.
LAMB: How does he get that kind of clout as a Republican on these committees to get a Buffalo subway?
KELLY: Pork is remarkably bipartisan, and it also extends down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. Bush, I might mention, is a pretty big pork-barreler himself. But in the appropriations committees I was always amazed to see these fellows, who would be red-faced and screaming at each other when they were appearing on the floor of the House or Senate over one issue or another, were just as chummy as could be when it came to carving up the pie. D'Amato is the ranking Republican of the Transportation Subcommittee in the Senate. He is an ally of Frank Lautenberg, who is the ranking Democrat of that committee, right over in New Jersey.
When the transportation funds get cut up, you will often find the case of Byrd usually gets the most, because he loves road dollars, number two will be Lautenberg, number three will be D'Amato. That's the way the deals are cut. Everyone supports the bill, everyone signs on, there's no dissent. As you work your way down the food chain, the people who are cooperative with these guys, whether Republicans or Democrats, get a little bit. When you get down to the bottom, there's crumbs, and the guys like Bob Smith from New Hampshire, who opposed these projects, get nothing.
LAMB: What happens to Bob Smith when he opposes these projects? How does he oppose them, by the way?
KELLY: I tell a classic story in there. Last fall a Transportation and Appropriations bill is moving through -- again, as always, rapidly -- a huge, complicated bill. Spending $20 billion, you'd think people might take a little time to study this, but they don't. The appropriators keep it close to the vest as long as they can. On Monday, Smith find that the bill is out and examines and realizes that in one particular category of road funds spending about $500 million, the allocation is made up exactly as I say. Byrd gets half of the $500 million for West Virginia, Lautenberg gets a substantial chunk, D'Amato gets a substantial chunk, a few other people get pieces of it. But most states get nothing out of this particular fund, which was typical of other funds throughout the bill.
So he makes a judgment: "I'm going to oppose this. What if we took the highway trust fund formula. This is worked out how we spend the highway trust fund dollars. You have your state with X number of miles of road of federal highway, and you pay a certain amount of tax dollars. There's a complicated formula, but as fairly as we can, we're going to give your state this much of this federal tax money back." He said, "If you apply the highway formula to these bills, you would find a completely different allocation of resources." Basically what he found was about 70 senators would gain from changing this bill, and 25 or 30 would lose. He said, "Any time I have 70 votes on my side, I think I can win this," so he takes it to the floor, puts an amendment on the floor. It all happened very quickly.
He has to put the amendment together quickly. He's got pressure from the leadership. Dole is calling him, D'Amato is calling him, "You'd better get that bill on the floor. We've got to move this. Don't you hold this up, now" -- that sort of thing. It's a very antagonistic process. He calls for the vote, and meanwhile Lautenberg, D'Amato and Byrd are all lobbying ferociously, telling other members, "Don't go with Smith on this. If you go with Smith on this bill, you'll get nothing from us again," which is always the ultimate threat of the appropriators. "If you cross us, you get nothing the next time you want something, and you'll always want something." You know, that's their theory. They call it the balance of terror up there. "If you want something, you can forget about getting it from us if you oppose us on this."
Smith makes his pitch. They had some embarrassing moments in there. It turned out there was some pork slipped into the bill that Smith didn't know anything about. Warren Rudman had put it in -- the great crusader for a balanced budget. Warren Rudman had slipped his own pork into the bill. It was very embarrassing to Smith. They mentioned this on the floor, and he was caught unaware. Lautenberg gives a ringing defense; meanwhile they're lobbying hard in the cloakroom. The clerk calls the roll, and the bill is defeated 84-16, a stunning defeat. Absolutely incomprehensible. Seventy people would have lost money on this bill, yet they voted with the appropriators.
LAMB: Go back to the front cover. It says, "How Washington wastes your money and why they won't stop." The way you're describing it, it will never stop, then.
KELLY: There is room for pessimism, certainly, but I think there is also the possibility of some optimism. It will stop if people send representatives to Congress whose primary job is not to bring home a bag full of goodies, but whose primary job is to deal with the huge national problems that we're facing_the deficit, a budget that is bleeding red ink at the $300- to $400-billion-a-year rate. Obviously, pork is not the only issue here. Entitlements, the whole world of mandatory spending, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security -- how do we wrestle with that? If you can't deal with the pork, which is purely luxuries, you certainly can't deal with the other question.
LAMB: How much pork is there in a $1.2 trillion budget?
KELLY: One hundred billion dollars. I say in the current budget we're operating under, fiscal '92, there's $100 billion worth of what I call pork in there.
LAMB: And none of it is needed?
KELLY: I would say that it's not needed, no. I think you could cut it all out. People will probably argue. Maybe you could cut $70 billion out. A lot of people will make the case you could cut $150 billion out. But I think $100 billion is a reasonable number. You could cut it out and it wouldn't affect the lifestyles of anybody. Maybe there would be some discomfort here or there, but pork is a huge category. People think of it as the small projects, like the Lawrence Welk Museum -- these petty things that Proxmire used to make fun of in the Golden Fleece. But the mentality that gets you the Lawrence Welk Museum gets you the $700 million toilet seat in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. It gets you the $5- or $6-billion Buffalo subway system. It gets you incredible amounts of defense pork.
LAMB: Is the Washington, D.C., subway system -- the $10 million system -- pork?
KELLY: I think you'd probably have to argue that it is, sure. It's pork of another era. It's complicated because there are so many jurisdictions at play here. There is an argument that the federal government may have an obligation to bring its own workers to work. The District of Columbia has particular differences that might mitigate some of the money that's been spent here. But you had a classic case just this year. Barbara Mikulski, the senator from Maryland, is also on the Appropriations Committee and ended up getting the government to spend more money than the Washington subway system had asked for. They're putting an extension of the subway into Maryland. The subway system was asking for a substantial federal handout, and Mikulski basically gave them about 30 percent more than they wanted. That was pure pork-barreling. She's up for reelection this year. That's what that was all about.
LAMB: Page 55, I want to read this paragraph: "One astonishing statistic was revealed recently in a study by economist James Payne's book “The Culture of Spending.” He added up witnesses who testified for and against increased spending at an assortment of congressional hearings over the last several years and found that among 1,060 witnesses on subjects as diverse as farm credits, housing and job training, only seven people spoke against spending more money." Only seven people spoke against spending more money out of 1,060 witnesses?
LAMB: That's 1,000 Americans -- probably Americans -- testifying. Only seven out of 1,000?
KELLY: That was interesting because it was a very hard data, and he's a reputable political scientist who studied this. But I'm told anecdotally from members of the committees up there that that's about right. Virtually no one comes to Capitol Hill and says don't spend money. Everyone comes to Capitol Hill -- recently there's this new sensitivity, so they all say, "Well, of course, I know we have this terrible budget situation. I know we're virtually bankrupt and we're bleeding red ink and we really do have to cut back, except for this project," which is crucial to national security or the fate of the nation or whatever the issue is. If you're going to give a little pass to some of these congressmen, that's what they hear all day. They hear all day from people who want something. Spend, spend, spend, whether it's the farmers, the veterans or the construction industry back home. The other myth of pork, of course, they're not hearing from the average voter. They're not hearing from their general constituents back in their district. They're hearing from particular constituents. They're hearing from people with a vested interest in the particular spending project.
LAMB: How would you grade the news media on covering pork?
KELLY: I think the media has gotten a little better about being aware of it. I think in this election they've done a pretty good job of holding Clinton's and Bush's feet to the fire about spending issues, always raising the question. Bush promised X, Y, Z, but had no idea how it was going to be paid for. Clinton's program says this, but has no idea of where the money's going to come from. I think that's really important.
LAMB: What about back there in those hometown newspapers and hometown television stations?
KELLY: I have not conducted a thorough survey, but in my experience, the projects that I looked at in some detail, the hometown newspapers were boosters. They are part of the problem, there's no question about it. Pork is a way of keeping score, and they will tweak their local congressman when he doesn't bring something back. There are a number of cases in there that I talk about. The Steamtown Railroad Museum in Scranton, one of the great pork-barreling boondoggles of all time, the local Scranton paper is an absolute booster of it. You know, they run editorials. Sometimes they'll take a cynical approach and, as they do in Scranton, and they'll say, "Well, the government's wasting all this money anyway. Why shouldn't we get our share of the waste?"
LAMB: Steamtown will cost how much when it's all over?
KELLY: One hundred to $150 million.
LAMB: Congressman responsible?
KELLY: Joe McDade from Scranton.
LAMB: Currently under indictment.
KELLY: Right. Not for Steamtown, but for some other related things.
LAMB: How is this Republican congressman able to get all this pork for a museum or a park or how would you describe it?
KELLY: I would describe it as an amusement park, I suppose. It's to be the federal railroad museum. It's actually a working railroad. They've got the Park Service in there, they've bought track, they've restored miles of track in the mountains there in Pennsylvania, they've restored bridges and they've built the rail yard from scratch. There wasn't much to really restore there. There was no reason to have it there in the first place.
LAMB: Have you been there?
KELLY: Yes, I've been there. I visited the site. It's amazing to look at it and to contemplate where this money could have gone. They may very well have put it in a bonfire in the center of the yard and lit it.
LAMB: Do you have to pay to get in it?
KELLY: No. It's free. It's the Federal Park Service, a federal park.
LAMB: Did the National Park Service want this?
KELLY: They didn't. The Park Service has a process by which they decide where they're going to put their money, and this was simply written into an appropriations bill that they were going to do this, so they were forced to do this by McDade.
LAMB: So they didn't want this Steamtown, USA, development in the National Park Service?
LAMB: And now they're going to get $100-and-some million in order to do this. Do the people of Scranton want it?
KELLY: It's interesting. There are people there who think it's good, I'm sure. The newspaper and the town fathers, such as they are, are great boosters of this. They're the people who stand the most to gain, I suppose, by it. I did a radio show just the other day from Scranton and was amazed. I was really expecting a lot of opposition because I'm very, very critical of Steamtown in the book and I've written about it elsewhere. I was amazed that all the calls were supportive of me. They were all saying, "You're right. This is really awful." That's one of the things that gives me hope, that people are a lot smarter, I think, than the politicians give them credit for. If it is explained to them how this works, if it is explained to them that this is not free money, that they are paying for this in many ways -- and they are right there in Scranton; they can see that this thing is an absolute boondoggle -- I think they will draw the logical conclusion, as they seem to in Scranton, of what's the point. The problem, of course, is who's going to turn down a handout? As long as the government is building it, it's at least creating some construction jobs. It's at least doing something. So if it's plopped in your lap, human nature would suggest no, you're probably not going to say, "Let's rip this whole thing up and send the money back to Washington."
LAMB: I want to be careful because I know that an indictment is not conviction, because I want to mention the name of another congressman from that part of the world, Dan Flood, who was convicted on 13 counts of what?
KELLY: Basically influence peddling, I guess. This was in the early '70s.
LAMB: Was it related to his ability to get pork to the state of Pennsylvania?
KELLY: It was similar. Flood was one of the champion pork barrelers. People remember him. He used to wear this Snidely Whiplash mustache, and he would have capes and a top hat and he'd give these long theatrical speeches on the floor of Congress. He was a little bit south of Scranton in Wilkes Barre and was one of the great pork barrelers. His most famous pork project was forcing the Pentagon to buy anthracite coal. Anthracite coal is mined right in there in that Wilkes Barre-Scranton area. The Pentagon to this day must buy tons of anthracite coal, ship it to Germany to heat the barracks of the U.S. forces stationed there, even though it would be both cleaner and cheaper to use oil purchased in Europe to do this. Every year in the defense appropriations bill is the memorial Dan Flood clause which says the Pentagon must buy anthracite coal to heat these bases. McDade has carried on that grand tradition.
LAMB: Presidential pork. You've got a chapter called "Hog Wallow." What's the purpose of that title?
KELLY: Hog wallow was the year end. What I followed was a year in the life of pork. I started with the end of the budget deal of 1990, and my first simple question was, how did the Lawrence Welk Museum get in there? How does a project like that get into the federal budget at a time when we're in such dire straits? I followed the spending process from the beginning of the year, from January of '91, through into the fall.
LAMB: Is that all you were doing during that period? Was that full-time?
KELLY: I was still working at Regardie's as well. I was editing the magazine.
LAMB: Did you go up on Capitol Hill a lot?
KELLY: Right. Probably every day I was up on Capitol Hill at one hearing or another.
LAMB: Were you in things like conference meetings?
KELLY: When I could get in, yes. It's not always the easiest thing. Some of them are deliberately closed. I was thrown out of a few of them.
LAMB: Who threw you out?
KELLY: Staff, aides -- physically ejected and told, "No, closed to the press."
LAMB: This is when the House and the Senate conferees come together to decide what bill is going to go back to the House and the Senate for a final vote.
LAMB: How often are those open in the appropriations process?
KELLY: I don't know the statistics on those. It was just my random survey. It seemed like more than half of them were closed.
LAMB: Why would they close them? Why should they close them?
KELLY: The arguments are, I guess, if there is a defense spending bill they felt that there were some national security concerns, I suppose. It was never explained to me in any detail why this was. It was just a tradition. These were not open. Some were, some weren't. And, of course, the other problem is some of them are formally closed, others are effectively closed because they're held in small rooms where maybe one member of the press might get in.
LAMB: Do you ever see a television camera in a conference?
KELLY: Never, no. They're certainly all closed to the broadcast media.
LAMB: And can you bring an item of pork, as you call it, into a conference report if it's not already there coming from either the House or the Senate side in the process?
KELLY: Sure. Anything can go into a conference bill and often does. As they say on Capitol Hill, "It's never over until it's over." A bill passes on the floor of the House, and it may not bear a resemblance to what emerges from the conference committee.
LAMB: Does the press vigorously try to get in the conference up on the Hill?
KELLY: When they want to. You know, there's this specialized press on Capitol Hill, the Congressional Quarterly folks and some of the newsletter people, and they will be in there chronicling this often. The general media, if there's a particular bill they're interested in they'll try to get in -- sometimes succeed and sometimes not -- but there's not a lot of attention focused on these issues unless it's a very hot bill.
LAMB: Who talked to you? You say a lot of people wouldn't talk to you. Was there anybody that would talk to you during the year, Congress people?
KELLY: Well, I ended up following closely a group that call themselves the "pork busters," and this was Bob Smith and Harris Fawell from Illinois, principally, that put together a bill that was intended to strip some of this stuff out. They were very good about allowing me to watch that whole process and watch how they put this together.
LAMB: Those that were putting the pork in the bills wouldn't talk to you?
KELLY: The people that were putting it in, no. The best interview I had was, I talked to a number of former congressmen who were a little more candid. Tony Cuello, who was a self-admitted master of pork barreling, said he used to teach pork barreling to the Democratic congressional campaign committee for young members having some problems. He said, "I'd take them in and give them a lecture about how to do this." Cuello is one of those very articulate, realistic, hard-nosed politicians. I have a certain admiration for people like that, as you said, and with the case of Byrd as well. He's very unabashed about it. He said it's part of the process. If you take pork out of the process, you're taking politics out of the process. Pork is about trying to reconcile all these competing interests in an imperfect system. I think there's certainly something to that argument.
LAMB: Is the Points of Light Foundation a pork barrel project, and what is it?
KELLY: The Points of Light Foundation emerged from George Bush's convention speech in 1988. This was his whole pitch toward volunteerism, and even though that was clearly a campaign initiative, he set up with government money a foundation which he called the Points of Light Foundation which is staffed with friends of his. I guess it's one of these presidential patronage backwaters. But the idea was that they were supposed to coordinate the volunteer efforts in Washington, and like a lot of little pieces of pork and special patronage that the president gets, this is up for review by the appropriators.
It was just kind of funny the way they would tweak Bush about it. At first the House cut it out completely, and then a couple of the senators said, "Well, we've got to give the president his due, and let's put a little bit back in." They kind of went back and forth a little bit on this, just as a way of making fun of him because, of course, Bush was giving these angry speeches about the pork barreling the Congress was doing, pounding the table, saying, "This is got to stop. I've got to have a line-item veto." But the reality is, he was putting his own pork in there at the same time. He had several of his own pet projects, some much bigger than the Points of Light Foundation, and was also not doing anything really effectively or substantively to try to stop Congress. He was only talking about it.
LAMB: Is the $23 million that's spent on the national performing arts center named after John F. Kennedy pork barrel stuff?
KELLY: I would argue that it is. I think the whole world of culture spending is an area where you've got to make some real hard calls about how much the government ought to be supporting things like the arts. You can get the classic conservative argument, which is, "Absolutely not at all; you shouldn't be spending anything on that." I think you can probably argue that there's some role for the government to promote culture, to support forms of national culture. I mean, we have a Smithsonian Institution, we have a national attic of historic relics. Why shouldn't we have something that's a little more contemporary? But I think that when you look at the scale of the Kennedy Center, how much money is being spent on it and some of the productions that go through there that are commercial Broadway productions and bear no relation to preserving any kind of national culture, you could argue that a lot of it is unnecessary, which raises an interesting point.
There's no science in saying what's pork and what's not pork. What I think has to happen is you've just got to take a more common-sense approach to a lot of these projects and say ultimately is this something we can really afford? This is all borrowed money. All of this is going to the bank to borrow money, so if you had all the money in the world and the budget were in surplus, maybe the Kennedy Center makes sense. If you're bankrupt, if you look at your own checkbook and your checkbook's in the red, is that the time to go buy season tickets to the Baltimore Orioles?
LAMB: What about $1 billion over the next three years for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?
KELLY: Again, that's certainly a hard-line, conservative argument that would say absolutely not. George Will made that case. Everyone said, "We're going to lose Big Bird here." It's not pork in the classic sense in that it's not a specific constituency. You don't have a congressman or a small group of congressmen bringing this home to their voters. But is it necessary spending? Is it something the federal government ought to be doing? I think there's a real serious question that it's probably not.
LAMB: We only have a few minutes left, and I know you've said this a couple of times, but what will it really take to stop the pork, and when do you think it's possible? At what point in this process that we've been watching over the last couple of years will some of these things stop?
KELLY: I am encouraged that it may stop fairly soon. I think you see some significant votes in Congress this year already. You had 140 members voting against the Congress' own legislative appropriations bill, which is Congress' personal pork -- a $2.8 billion corporation. One hundred and forty members said, "That's excessive." You've got 100+ members coming in this year. A lot of these are people who have been energized by the Perot voters, energized by the notion of change, by we've got to stop doing business as usual. You start to add 100 members onto 140, and we're talking about a majority here. I think the change is going to have to come from the House principally. The Senate is much bigger porkers than they were ever supposed to be, and I think they're going to be slower to change. I think as we've seen from both the White House and Clinton, this is not a subject either one of them wants to address seriously. But I have a great optimism that the House is the place where we can see a substantial change, and I think we can see it this year.
LAMB: Are you at all surprised about the reaction of the people you've been talking to about your book?
KELLY: I'm pleased by it, I have to say. I've gotten letters from lobbyists and other members and people who've said, "I never really appreciated this problem for what it was," because, as I say, the myth in Washington is that pork is petty. What I say is, pork and the pork mentality is very significant. If we can't deal with it, we're never going to deal with any of the other problems that we're facing. So here it is, here's the case, here's what pork is, here's why it's hurting us, and here's why we can do without it. Let's see if somebody is going to do something about it.
LAMB: Do you plan a follow-up book on this issue, or is this it for Brian Kelly and the pork?
KELLY: I'd like to see what happens with this one first, but I think that there is another book to be done that maybe broadens this topic even more and looks at the question of entitlements and the question of other spending -- more specifically beyond pork, how we deal with these spending questions -- because I believe that it is the issue of the '90s. As a journalist I think that's where the great story is going to be, in sorting out some of these budget questions, and how this country spends its money is really the whole ball game.
LAMB: By the way, whose idea was it to get Pat Oliphant to do the illustration?
KELLY: Pat's a friend, and we were having lunch one day and I was telling him what I was working on and his eyes kind of lit up. He's got an evil streak to him. He said, "Oh, boy, I could have a lot of fun with those guys," so we went ahead with it.
LAMB: This is the cover, Adventures in Porkland; the author, Brian Kelly, our guest. Thank you very much.
KELLY: Thank you, Brian.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1992. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.