Call it the award that keeps on giving … but not to its recipients. Reason TV uses the case of the Sewall-Belmont House to make larger points about pork, but the taxpayer dollars flowing into the tony Washington DC banquet hall is questionable enough. Despite its high-profile business in hosting the rich and powerful inside the Beltway for social and political events, it turns out that American taxpayers have underwritten the enterprise with millions in pork — including a million dollars from one of their award recipients:
“Over the last 10 years, the Sewall-Belmont House has gotten over $3.4 million in earmarks,” says Leslie Paige of Citizens Against Government Waste.
Reporters often highlight the most ridiculous examples, but politicians have learned how to make their pork projects sound uncontroversial, even appealing.
Just say your project will help children, senior citizens, or—if you really want to slip under the radar—direct taxpayer dough to a museum. “Museums are one of the biggies because they sound so good,” says Paige.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) used that angle to direct a million-dollar earmark to the Sewall-Belmont House (after the Senator received an award from the Sewall-Belmont House). Turns out Landrieu was just getting warmed up, because her recent $300 million “Louisiana Purchase” shot her into the ranks of pork legends.
This is the kind of mutual backscratching that has created an explosion in earmarks over the last generation, and that has solidified the grip on power by career politicians looking to curry favor. Landrieu got notoriety for her Louisiana Purchase in the Senate version of ObamaCare, but this is perhaps even less defensible. The buy-off on ObamaCare was intended to cushion the blow of federal mandates on Medicaid that ObamaCare creates in Louisiana. What interest does the Sewall-Belmont House payoff serve for her constituents?