The cry to stop earmarks is echoing from the halls of Congress once again. Senators and House members feign to be against earmarks until they realize that earmarks are an easy way to get government spending into their district. They act as if earmarks are going to ruin us, while it is really a miniscule part of the budget. “”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.” http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/11/03/earlyshow/main7017689.shtml
Apparently DeMint, a leading Republican Senator, couldn’t remember that Congress has 535 members, so he used the number 500 as an estimate. Unless he was rounding to the nearest hundred. If so, he nailed it!
Earmarks are less than one percent of the budget. “In 2008, Congress earmarked $17.2 billion for special projects. That amounts to less than one half of one percent of all Federal spending last year. The figure is less than NASA’s 2008 budget ($17.3 billion) and less than half of the $35 billion the country spent on foreign aid last year.” http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/06/do-earmarks-matter/ However, an earmark ban upsets lobbyists, so perhaps it’s not such a bad thing. http://www.redstate.com/brian_d/2010/11/14/lobbyists-upset-about-demint-earmark-ban/
The American Spectator thinks these earmarks are outrageous:
“SOME EARMARK “CLASSICS” ARE UNFORGETABLE:
“* $7.3 million for grasshopper research in North Dakota-FY1999” is noted as a problem.
Outrageous, right? Not if you know your facts. North Dakota is one of the largest agricultural producing states in the nation, producing $8,270,517,000 of crops in 2008 alone http://www.ers.usda.gov/statefacts/ND.HTM . Moreover, one of the largest pests, pests that cause millions of dollars of damage each year, is grasshoppers. Why wouldn’t they want to study the pests and find a way to reduce their affect on their cash crops?
“* $1 million for a DNA study of bears in Montana-FY2003” is also considered outrageous by the Spectator.
Silly to study bears, right? Well, let’s look at the facts. Montana is one of the states that encompass part of Yellowstone Park. Yellowstone Park is one of the major tourist attractions in Montana, garnering millions for the state. Bears are major attractions in the park. If the bear population were to decrease, it might reduce the number of tourists to Yellowstone, losing Montana millions. Bears can also be major irritant for nearby urban areas. Understanding the biology of bears might help protect the bears and humans so future generations can safely appreciate these magnificent creatures.
“* $50,000 for a tattoo removal program in California-FY2002” That’s crazy, right?
Tattoo removal programs target former gang members and prison inmates as a way to assist them in making a transition to a productive way of life. http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/News/tattoo_list.html Thus, funding for tattoo removal can reduce gang violence and recidivism. Both are goals worth far more than $50,000.
Examples from the American Spectator: http://spectator.org/blog/2010/08/13/end-earmarks-plug-the-pork-sto
So, not only are earmarks a tiny part of the budget, they can be good investments in different states.
The real problem with the earmarks is how they are put into bills without consideration by the whole Congress. They are stealth spending that House and Senate members sneak into bills. Some of the so-called horrible earmarks can be good investments, as I pointed out above. Some can be a waste of money. However, Congress people don’t read the earmarks, so the author of the earmark can’t promote them, and Congress can’t make educated decisions about what spending is useful or not.
The other problem with earmarks is that they can lead to support for spending bills that would otherwise fail. Let’s say Congressman A is against the War in Iraq. To get his support for a war spending bill, Congresswoman B allows Congressman A to put an earmark in the bill, spending in his district for public transportation, to get his to vote for the military spending. This hand washing leads to a bloated budget far larger and problematic than the passage of a few earmarks.
A simple change to the earmark process would be for all earmarks to be read by the author of the earmark and voted on separately before being added to any spending bill. Thus, funds for levee repair along the Mississippi and bridge retrofitting could be passed in a transportation bill at the last minute, given that the members of Congress vote to put these earmarks in on a simple majority vote.
Like most things about Congress, it comes down to lack of gate-keeping mechanisms for spending. So instead of making common sense changes to the budgeting process, i.e. forcing all members of Congress to read all spending bills or read comprehensive summaries of bills produced by their staff, they come out against all earmarks, or they ignore the process and let the secret spending continue unabated.
Stop the stupidity in Congress; pass a READ THE BILL Act http://www.downsizedc.org/read-the-laws to keep them honest. Also, pass changes to the process on passing earmarks.
Top Earmarkers are Republicans–http://dyn.politico.com/members/forums/thread.cfm?catid=1&subcatid=1&threadid=3699656&sort=1
Get involve in Read the Bill Act