If you are going to clean out a refrigerator, you start with the part that smells. In Washington, it’s pork, not in the frig, but on Capitol Hill. This pork, otherwise known as an “earmark,” is a project that is slipped into a bill by a lawmaker that circumvents the merit-based or competitive process and serves a narrow or special interest.
An infamous one that shows up almost every year is “wood utilization research.” We’re spending $4,841,000 on new ways to use wood (trees) this year. Has anyone heard of paper bags? I’ll give it to you for free and you can save taxpayers $4.8 million. That’s a perfectly good use for wood. However, many cities now are trying to ban paper bags in order to save trees! The irony of it all!
These projects add up. Citizens Against Government Waste has documented 109,952 of them worth $307.8 billion since 1991.
On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put down a rebellion in his ranks led by Sens. Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn by passing a nonbinding resolution that barred members from requesting earmarks for two years. What restraint! Two whole years without earmarks. How will these senators survive?
I would like to point out that this vote is “nonbinding” and it was a “voice vote,” which shields senators who are opposed from angry voters who want the practice banned permanently.
In fact, the recent debate over earmarks within the GOP points out the obvious: The majority of Republican lawmakers aren’t truly committed to cutting the government down to size. The steadfast refusal by some senators to give up the practice is telling. Their arguments border on the ridiculous.
It is tantamount to an obese person arguing that his condition simply cannot be cured by eating smaller portions and consuming fewer calories. While McConnell finally threw in the towel on earmarks, he did so reluctantly, refusing to admit it will affect the bottom line. “OK, you win. I will give up the cheesecake even though it will not affect my waistline.”
Why a moratorium and not a permanent ban on the practice of inserting money for hometown projects and big-ticket items that benefit influential constituents? All but the faithful intend to go back to the practice as soon as the heat from the tea-party movement is off.
Lawmakers are addicted to this practice. Spending our hard-earned money on high-profile projects back home makes them look like heroes to the uninitiated. They show up at ribbon-cutting ceremonies and get their pictures in the paper with groveling local officials. They operate like little gods raining down sidewalks, parking lots and senior citizen centers.
How much better we would be if they simply cut out this nonsense and reduced our taxes! It is silly to send a dollar to Washington, only to have it layered through the federal bureaucracy, in order to get back fifty cents. Local projects should be funded by local taxes where lawmakers are more accountable to the people.
Unfortunately, these high-profile pork-barrel projects are only the beginning of the problem. These political payoffs to lawmakers are used to grease the skids to pass huge spending bills that never would make it on their own.
However, these local projects are really small compared to the earmarks inserted for the benefit of favored constituents. Let’s say I have a manufacturing company and I have been trying to persuade the military to buy some of my products, but the military isn’t interested.
There is an easier way to get a military contract. Cozy up to a congressman or senator by becoming a large campaign contributor. Sure, there are limits on the amount I can contribute to an individual campaign. However, most senators have political action committees that can accept tons of cash. Senators spread this money around to help their friends get elected and use this money like bargaining chips.
The next step is to persuade my new best friend that I have a worthwhile product or idea that could help the military that needs an earmark. (It doesn’t really take that much persuading.) The whole process stinks to high heaven! It wastes man hours in Congress that could be better spent on trying to reduce overall spending. It wastes billions of dollars on the salaries of agency staffers who have to keep track of these often worthless projects in order to satisfy the lawmakers who are responsible for their overall budgets.
The bad smell that is coming out of Washington may be reduced in the short run, but keep the disinfectant handy. We’re going to need it.