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Why is "pork barrel" spending important?

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Pork barrel spending is spending that is intended for specific projects that benefit donor or constituent groups. Pork barrel spending can make legislation easier to pass because it allows for targeted incentives towards Congressional members that might otherwise be antagonistic towards legislation. Unfortunately, this kind of targeted benefit generally proliferates, as it gives even friendly legislators an incentive to take an opposing stance in a bid to obtain some pork barrel spending. This can lead to significant increases in spending and can blow holes in the budget.

A second important issue with pork barrel spending is that it can create inefficient funding streams. This is most visible in military spending, where certain projects that are unnecessary can continue because of the benefit they bring to specific groups. Certain pieces of military technology, such as Abrams tanks, continue to be purchased through appropriations legislation because so many different Congressional districts benefit from these purchases. The military doesn't need these additional tanks, though, so the continuing purchases force the military to spend money on something it doesn't need, which prevents funding from going to other projects which may be more useful. It also increases overall spending without providing a noticeable benefit.

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Pork barrel spending (also known simply as “pork”) is important for two main reasons.  It helps to make it easier to pass legislation, but it also tends to contribute to overspending by the government.

Pork barrel spending is not easily defined because a project that looks like pork to one person will seem truly important to another.  However, the general idea is that pork is when the government spends money on pointless or unnecessary projects just so that government money can flow to the district of a given member of Congress.

Pork makes it easier to pass laws.  A representative who is reluctant to vote for a certain bill can be persuaded if the leadership offers him or her some pork programs.  Alternatively, leadership can threaten people who vote the wrong way too often by threatening to take away pork from those members’ districts.

However, pork does lead to unnecessary spending.  It leads to money being spent on things that are not important just to help some members of Congress politically.  This helps to build up the national deficit and debt and is therefore a bad thing.

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Why might pork barrel legislation be necessary?

There are at least three reasons why we might argue such legislation is necessary.

First, it can be seen as economically important.  Pork barrel legislation brings real economic activity to various Congressional districts.  This can be very beneficial to the economies of those areas.

Second, and relatedly, pork barrel spending helps people to feel that the government is actually working for them.  When projects are undertaken in a particular area, people see that their tax money is being used in ways that help them.  This makes them have a more positive attitude towards government.  This can be seen as necessary because it helps build support for government, which helps keep our system stable.

Finally, pork can be seen as necessary for the functioning of Congress.  By giving out pork, party leaders are able to persuade legislators to back certain proposals they might not otherwise support.  We can argue that a system without pork would be one in which it would be harder to get any deals made.  This would add to the gridlock we sometimes experience in our current system.

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