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What Is Meant by "Pork Barrel Politics", and What Is Its Significance in Congress?

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Submitted By Jennie
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Pork barrel politics refers to the mechanism by which Congressmen can add amendments to a Bill that directly benefits their state or district. For example, in 2008 the Gravina Island Bridge in Alaska was pushed for by Republican Senator Ted Stevens. The project cost $398 million yet only benefited around 50 people living on the island. The objective of doing such a thing would be to improve re-election prospects and show to their constituents that they can deliver things such as economic or employment opportunities in their state or district.
This can be seen to be significant to Congress as it enhances incumbent advantage. Incumbent advantage is the advantage existing candidates have in elections against challengers and means that it is difficult for anyone to contest an existing congressman. Pork barrel politics will make this worse as it will increase the incumbent’s record of getting things done for their constituents such as Ben Nelson who was able to get “pork” into the Obamacare bill for his state and was re-elected in 2012. This may not be such a bad thing in of itself but it has a direct effect on Congress as it means that the same people will be elected over and over again and this can hinder change and could prevent other, potentially better, candidates from winning the seat. However, it can be argued that despite this, each incumbent still has to stand in elections and it is still the electorate’s decision whether or not to re-elect them.
Another reason pork barrel politics is significant in Congress is that it increases government debt. If every congressman wants added benefits for his or her state, those benefits are going to involve costs that the government can’t afford. A good example of this is the $398 million project that only helped 50 people in Alaska. Pork barrel politics adds to the economic crisis that is hitting the global economy and…...

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