Federal Triangle: Earmark Madness
I suggest you use the Internet and insert three terms into a Google search: pork, federal budget and earmark. You should get 4,480 hits, about one-third the number of items specified in the omnibus appropriation bill passed by Congress a few weeks ago. This is a topic requiring urgent attention because it is quickly ruining government operations and can bankrupt America.
An earmark (sometimes called a plus-up or add-on) is a specific appropriation that directs a federal agency to spend money in a certain way. It usually has characteristics of being requested by only one chamber in Congress, cover task not specifically authorized, is not competitively awarded, exceeds and was not requested in the President's budget, was not a subject of hearings and prior public record, and serves only special interests.
In fiscal year 04 just completed, Congress stuck 10,656 earmarks in thirteen appropriations lumped together as an "omnibus" bill, a habit in the last four of five Congresses, and a 13% increase over 9,362 earmarks from 2003. Fiscal 04 earmarks cost $22.9 billion. The 05 budget contained nine Executive branch appropriations (two other budgets passed separately for Energy and Defense) with nearly 7,931 earmarks costing $15.9 billion; and the total among all thirteen bills pushed 12,000 earmarks. House Republicans alone requested 18,898 additions (most not making it through review processes) but what is most distressing is that earmark madness has grown exponentially. Essentially half the Defense R&D budget, 30% of Federal Transit Administration total spending and 60% of Federal Highway Administration projects (99% of them have been reviewed and deemed not high priority) are mandated via earmark. Members talk about tax spending controls but cannot control themselves, given opportunity to send money home to their Districts. Democrats are even worse than Republicans. So the American public has a problem.
Congress has the Constitutional right and responsibility to determine how money is spent. Appropriations initiate in the House based on a budget request (concurrent with the State of the Union) submitted by the President. That is the established process to fund Executive branch agencies but to hear some in Congress, Members know best what constituents need. This is a self-serving lie. Incumbents view earmarks as reelection tools. The public should view earmarks as a sign of political corruption and corruption of our democratic republic. I have done Congressional earmarks and now understand it is a bad practice (see www.hertitage.org/research/budget). My associate got a $100,000 grant this year to subsidize a film festival and a like amount went for a museum in Punxsutawney, Pa., to revere their meteorologically clairvoyant groundhog. These are fine examples of how not to spend federal taxes.
In total we are talking big bucks. If spread evenly over 435 Congressional districts it amounts to $25.6 million each. The average House Member distributed $14 million of other people's money. Alaska led the nation with $808 per capita, twenty-six times the national average of $31, followed by Hawaii at $393 and District of Columbia at $321 per capita. And notice that the states gaining greatest largess have senior Members on the Appropriations Committee (West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Alaska). Members make deals, which is appropriate, but does it seem inappropriate that Senator Patti Murray (D-WA), the ranking member on transportation issues, can deal with Representative Anne Northup (R-KY) representing Louisville, that received more highway earmarks than Delaware, Vermont, Nebraska, and Wyoming, in return for assistances on health and education earmarks for Washington? It is not possible to embarrass these people because they are arrogant and devious in methodology. "Technical amendments," a euphemism for "let's not raise issues publicly and say we are saving time," or "iron things out in conference committee," where little record exists to prove participants complicity, are common techniques.
Understand that there is an art to generating earmarks, well beyond what is stipulated in Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution that reserves power to Congress for appropriating money from the U.S. Treasury. The nation's Capitol is overrun with people who gain more than a living ($5 to $25 thousand monthly retainers typically) doing the paperwork of earmarks, arranging distribution of taxpayer money to which they have no legal claim. And much of what they collect from the beneficiaries of earmarks is "donated" to Members. But what's the complaint? You got 31 bucks back for something you probably didn't need.
When you go to bed tonight, think about what you have read here before you drift into sleep. I urge you to resolve to do something about it. Personally, your business and our nation need action to break this cycle of corruption. Earmark madness is a formula for national failure. IH