Marine Transportation System

Congress Should Ban/Allow Earmarking

In Federal Government, Politics, Water Resources on December 17, 2010 at 1:28 am

Step right up to the Washington Sideshow! See the lobbyist do strange things.

Go ahead.  Don’t be afraid.  Ask me about earmarking.  Then watch my head spin, my eyes bulge, and listen as I speak in exasperations, convolutions and contradictions.

Outside the Beltway earmarking might be a specialty of tattoo artists.  Inside the Beltway, and in the public sector among countless State and local officials–and even in the private sector–earmarking is about addressing solving problems and getting business done.  It is what you ask of your Senator or Member for your town or company or non-profit.

Earmarking, rarely adequately-explained in the media, is usually defined as bacon-brought-home.  The water supply project.  The library addition.  The in-the-bag contract with the Army.  The jet fighter the Air Force doesn’t want but your constituents want to build.  The genome research grant.  The road extension.

The claim is that earmarking costs money that otherwise would not be spent and, in any event, should not be spent in this time of record deficits.  Others respond that it represents “only” less than 1 percent of the cost of a major funding bill.

Defenders of earmarking reach for the Constitutional argument: Congress and Congress alone was given responsibility for making funding decisions.

Besides, goes the insulting tag line, why should Congress defer to “faceless,” “unelected” “bureaucrats” to decide what projects to fund or grants to award?

As a practice congressional earmarking grew significantly over the past 10 or so years.  Today thousands of earmarks populate annual appropriations.  Over 6,000  projects were in the last enacted surface transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU.  (The name that includes the then committee chairman’s wife’s name is itself an earmark.)

Recent congresses have adopted ever tighter rules to improve transparency and to formalize making earmark requests.  However in this post-election period we see earmark critics empowered to the point of sending once-proud practitioners to the public confessional from which they emerge chastened and converted to the cause.

The Washington Sideshow can be entertaining.  Righteous conservatives decry earmarking and then do an about-face as if it the real implications of an earmark ban on their ability to help their districts suddenly dawn on them.  (Doh!  I need that road project!)

Okay, enough about Congress.  What about your head spinning?

Okay. Here goes. Earmarking has gotten out of hand.  It’s the self righteous indignation about earmarking that has gotten out of hand. It used to be about bringing home the pork; today the farmyard is emptied of its livestock.  But there is an unreasonable demand for purity by tea party adherents and Republican leadership. Yes, but there definitely are bad earmarks and that’s got to stop.  But there is nothing bad about helping your district get funds for needed sewer lines. Something needs to be done.  Yes, something needs to be done.

Okay, okay.  So your head can spin.  What does this have to do with the MTS?

You will have to read the next post.  Here’s a clue…WRDA.    Pbea

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  1. [...] previous post on this blog discusses how a broad brush is being used in the “earmark” debate in Congress where [...]

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