Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – “Orçamento impositivo” is the sesquipedalian rendering in Portuguese of “pork barrel” —American for adding provisions to legislation that forces the government to spend money on something it doesn’t want to. In Brazil, the barrel has (again!) gone ballistic and the pork has gone postal.
No prize from the Curmudgeon for guessing which place every member of Congress thinks deserves the most money — that selfsame district where constituents voted for them because they promised them more pork in their barrels!
Last year, Congress passed a constitutional amendment that doubled the amount of the pork in the collective feeding trough. Before the amendment, the 1988 Constitution provided that legislators could “log roll” (“you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” or, in colloquial Portuguese, “É dando que se recebe”) but only up to one percent of the annual federal budget. Sadly for wannabe spendthrifts, the President could veto the logs (barrels) she doesn’t like rolling.
The 2014 Amendment changed this to require the Executive Branch to spend two percent of the annual federal budget on boondoggles proposed by legislators that benefit those particular places where they get most of their votes. No vetoes are permitted, so the President’s only control is one of timing the release of the cash into the local pockets.
As the Brazilian economy contracts, the government has delayed funding pork barrels for as long as possible. But last week, during the Congressional recess, President Dilma called the 27 State Governors to Brasília to drum up support for her economic program. In return, she promised them she would tell the Treasury to open wide the federal faucets, and release those billions and billions down whichever drain the governors (and their supporting congressmen) favored.
The late Everett Dirksen, then Senator from Illinois, famously decreed: “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to REAL money.”
The Curmudgeon knows very little about pork bellies, but he’s studied pork barrels for more than fifty years. He’ll be makin’ bacon in a while so please stay tuned.