Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Earmark, anyone

This morning, the U.S. Senate voted down a measure which would have dropped the use of earmarks to add local projects to larger spending bills.  An earmark is an amendment to a bill that provides federal money or tax breaks to a cause, group, or project. A member of Congress attaches these to spending bills that he knows will be passed in order to bring home a little more of that Federal smack.  Over the years, earmarks have been the death by 1000 cuts that have packed our laws with pork spending.

There has always been an oily feeling about the whole process.  It's not hard to imagine someone making a campaign donation in exchange for an earmark.  Even if all of the earmarks ever passed were wholly virtuous, there is the perception that they are part of a quid pro quo. Caesar's wife must be beyond reproach, and so should our Congress.  The Tea Party made earmarks an issue in the 2010 Congressional elections, and Republicans in both houses have foresworn their use.  The Senate bill would have made it a matter of procedure to not attach earmarks to bills.

I don't believe that earmarks are a sure sign of corruption.  I don't even believe that most members of Congress are corrupt.  But there is a virulent minority in both houses of Congress that use their power to bring home the pork spending as a club to wring every available penny for their re-election or retirement out of their constituency.  I support efforts to remove earmarks from legislation, if for no other reason that it forces dishonest people to find a new way to steal from us.

But if Congressional Democrats, who I must give some credit to for making modest reforms to the process of earmarks, want to continue the practice, then how about we have a Federal Earmark Consolidation And Legitimization (FECAL) bill during every session of Congress?  Each addition to the bill should list which member(s) of Congress requested it, who it will benefit, and what it will be used for.  The bill will need to be passed by both chambers and signed by the President, so everyone can know exactly who is creating FECAL material in our legislative process.  You want a few million federal dollars for a highway or bridge project?  Just put it in the FECAL bill.  Want to give a tax break to the largest employer in your congressional district?  Put it in the FECAL Bill.  It's so easy even a corrupt Congressman can do it.

If we must have an unsavory, possibly corrupt process for taking my hard earned money and passing it out to our congress critters' pet projects, Congress should at least have the decency to put all of their special appropriations into one place where we can have a good look at them.
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