Time for a non-partisan attack to eliminate earmarks

Regardless of how you view the Nov. 2, 2010 election results, we still have the future to worry about; and one of the most worrisome features of Congress is the concept of “earmarks” a/k/a “pork barrel projects.”  I suggest that earmarks constitute the most divisive, dishonest and dangerous of procedures threatening the republic. Why do I say that?

First, what are “earmarks?”  They are the local project riders added to legislation to authorize and fund pork barrel projects.  You vote for my earmark and I’ll vote for yours and both constituencies will be happy — and we’ll get re-elected.  Often the projects are not only unneeded but downright wasteful, e.g. the Alaska road-to-nowhere. It’s bad enough that if my project costs $1 million, then yours costs $1 million resulting in a $2 million hicky.

That’s bad enough — wasteful spending — but I’ll never be convinced other than that often the dialogue is “if you’ve vote for this legislation that you really don’t like, I’ll vote for a huge earmark for you.”  What is the difference between that and buying a vote at the polls — which is quite illegal?  The give and take of the legislative process — which is necessary — is bad enough in seeking compromise to pass legislation, but swapping earmarks for votes compromises principles.  That is intolerable.

There is reason to hope that earmarks may be targeted by some in Congress, witness:

With their sweeping electoral victory in hand, Republicans are committed to ending earmarks – the local-project riders to legislation – and focusing on the big national issues, a top Senate Republican said Wednesday.

“We can’t have 500 congressmen and senators who think it’s their job to bring home the bacon – and that’s what’s going to change,” South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint told CBS’ “The Early Show. “One of the first thing we’ll do in the House and Senate is ban earmarks as Republicans – that’ll get our eyes back on fixing our tax code, fixing social security and Medicare, getting America back to work.”

DeMint called earmarks “that parochial interest I think gets that the focus of interest off national interests onto paving local parking lots.” He said in an editorial Tuesday that the dozens of GOP congressional newcomers “can’t be bribed if they’re not for sale.”

via DeMint: We’ll Ban Earmarks Right Away – The Early Show – CBS News.

Not only do earmarks have the potential to compromise a legislator’s principles, but they violate the separation of powers demanded by the Constitution. The separation of powers — the principle that powers of government are shared among the three, co-equal branches of government — requires that certain powers have checks and balances to control the functions of government and the spending and administration of funds (those would be OUR tax dollars, for you in Loma Linda) is one of those important areas.

Seal of the Office of Management and Budget

Seal of the Office of Management and Budget

Earmarks circumvent the executive branch part of that control according to this Wikipedia article:

The federal Office of Management and Budget defines earmarks as funds provided by Congress for projects or programs where the congressional direction (in bill or report language) circumvents Executive Branch merit-based or competitive allocation processes, or specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the Executive Branch to manage critical aspects of the funds allocation process.

via Earmark (politics) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

If you doubt that earmarks are a problem, check out the earmarks database at the Office of Management and Budget. The OMB estimate of 2010 earmarks is a file 2.6MB in size in a compressed zip file (containing an Excel spreadsheet).  There are 53,409 line items in that file.  One analysis of the FY2010 earmarks states

Earmark totals appear to have decreased from fiscal year (FY) 2009 to FY2010, but an apples‐to‐apples comparison tells a different story. In FY10, appropriations bills contained 9,499 congressional earmarks worth $15.9 billion. This compares with 11,286 congressional earmarks worth $19.9 billion in FY09.

However, to do a true year‐to‐year comparison requires taking away certain Army Corps of Engineers earmarks that were included in FY09 but not in FY10.1 In addition, the FY09 total includes earmarks from a supplemental spending bill passed after the regular spending bills that year.2 After adjusting for both of these factors, FY10’s $15.9 billion in earmarks represents a slight increase from $15.6 billion in FY09.


What to do now?  We citizen/taxpayers need to be just as vocal about earmarks as we were in this election about the size and scope of government.  No, in the scope of our current federal budgets and deficits $15 billion is not significant money, but the probability of bastardizing the legislative process is simply too great.  “We” (and I mean that in a non-partisan way) have “their” (and I mean both sides of the aisle) attention:  carpe diem.


About Gil Jones

CPA/Attorney/Judge by training and trade. Hobby nut at heart with BMW m/c, computers, ham radio, kayak fishing, photography, hiking and, starting in 2010 some semi-serious running and bicycling (road and mountain bikes). Retired after 16 years on a Texas District Court bench and since 2013 have been mediating cases. I am a Credentialed Distinguished mediator (TMCA).
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