Not what the founders in­tended

The Covington News - - Opinion -

Dur­ing the last few years, there has been much de­bate in Congress over ear­mark­ing, which is the process of des­ig­nat­ing funds for a spe­cific pur­pose in a spend­ing bill. Crit­ics of the prac­tice call most of th­ese ear­marks “pork bar­rel projects.” Mem­bers of both par­ties use the prac­tice in or­der to se­cure funds for their dis­tricts and proudly point them out dur­ing their next cam­paign to prove they are in­Wash­ing­ton to “bring home the ba­con.” Lead­er­ship of par­ties in Congress will of­ten use ear­marks to en­tice mem­bers to vote a cer­tain po­si­tion on leg­is­la­tion. The 2003 ex­pan­sion of Medi­care and the 2007 emer­gency spend­ing bill for Iraq are both ex­am­ples of this prac­tice.

“Ear­mark­ing isn’t sub­ject to com­pet­i­tive bid­ding, con­gres­sional hear­ings, proper over­sight or au­tho­riza­tions,” says Andrew Roth with the Club for Growth, a non-profit group ded­i­cated to lower taxes and lim­ited gov­ern­ment.

The lack of over­sight ul­ti­mately leads to cor­rup­tion, as we have seen in re­cent years through the scan­dals of for­mer Con­gress­man Duke Cun­ning­ham and for­mer lob­by­ist Jack Abramoff, who called the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee a “fa­vor fac­tory.”

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid (D-Ne­vada) de­fends the process say­ing, “The Found­ing Fa­thers would be cring­ing to hear peo­ple talk­ing about elim­i­nat­ing ear­marks.”

Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth.

Pres­i­dent James Madi­son, the Fa­ther of the Con­sti­tu­tion, ex­plic­itly re­jected what we would con­sider to be pork bar­rel spend­ing when he ve­toed the Bonus Bill of 1817, which would have spent rev­enues from the Sec­ond Bank of the United States on “in­ter­nal im­prove­ments.”

“The leg­isla­tive pow­ers vested in Congress are spec­i­fied and enu­mer­ated in the eighth sec­tion of the first ar­ti­cle of the Con­sti­tu­tion, and it does not ap­pear that the power pro­posed to be ex­er­cised by the bill is among the enu­mer­ated pow­ers, or that it falls by any just in­ter­pre­ta­tion with the power to make laws nec­es­sary and proper for car­ry­ing into ex­e­cu­tion those or other pow­ers vested by the Con­sti­tu­tion in the Gov­ern­ment of the United States,” wrote Madi­son in his veto mes­sage to Congress.

He added, “To re­fer the power in ques­tion to the clause ‘to pro­vide for com­mon de­fense and gen­eral

The most well­known ear­mark is the Grav­ina Is­land

Bridge in Ketchikan, Alaska,

which is more com­monly re­ferred to as the Bridge to

Nowhere.

wel­fare’ would be con­trary to the es­tab­lished and con­sis­tent rules of in­ter­pre­ta­tion.”

Ear­mark­ing, in its cur­rent form, is a fairly re­cent phe­nom­e­non. Ac­cord­ing to Cit­i­zens Against Govern­men­tWaste, ear­marks were not used ex­ten­sively un­til the 1980s. In 1991, there were 546 ear­marks to­tal­ing $3.1 bil­lion. By 2005, there were nearly 14,000 ear­marks at a cost of $27.3 bil­lion. The num­ber of ear­marks de­creased in 2006, but the to­tal cost of the ear­marks ac­tu­ally went up to $29 bil­lion.

The most well-known ear­mark is the Grav­ina Is­land Bridge in Ketchikan, Alaska, which is more com­monly re­ferred to as the Bridge to Nowhere. The bridge was part of the pork-laden 2005 high­way bill.

This $223 mil­lion pork project, sup­ported by Sen­a­tor Ted Stevens, would have re­placed a ferry that trans­ports some of Grav­ina Is­land’s 50 res­i­dents (yes, 50) to the main­land in Ketchikan, which is home to Alaska’s sec­ond largest air­port.

Stevens threat­ened to re­sign from the Se­nate when the project was threat­ened. The fund­ing re­mained for Alaska, but the spe­cific ear­mark for the bridge was re­moved. Alaska’s newly elected Gov­er­nor, Sarah Palin, killed the project last year.

Con­gress­man Jeff Flake, a Repub­li­can from Ari­zona, has tar­geted many ear­marks through a se­ries of amend­ments to spend­ing bills. He has sought to strip fund­ing for ridicu­lous ear­marks such as $50,000 for the Na­tional Mule and Pack­ers Mu­seum in Cal­i­for­nia, $200,000 for the Amer­i­can Jazz Mu­seum in Kansas City, Mo., and $150,000 for the South Carolina Aquar­ium in Charleston, S.C.

Ear­marks are an is­sue for sev­eral rea­sons. They can dis­tort the mar­ket­place, al­low­ing the gov­ern­ment to pick win­ners and losers. More of­ten than not, the cost of an ear­mark is greater than the ben­e­fit, some­thing that is es­pe­cially true with mass tran­sit projects.

There also is not much pub­lic sup­port for the prac­tice. Ac­cord­ing to a CBS News poll con­ducted last year, 67 per­cent of the pub­lic viewed ear­marks as “not ac­cept­able.”

Both Demo­cratic Party can­di­dates for the pres­i­dency have at­tempted to raid the pub­lic purse for their states. Ac­cord­ing to “The Hill,” Sen­a­tor Barak Obama sought $98 mil­lion in ear­marks in 2007 to Sen­a­tor Hil­lary Clin­ton’s $342 mil­lion. Obama has re­ceived more than $200 mil­lion in ear­marks since 2005, in­clud­ing a $1 mil­lion ear­mark for Univer­sity of Chicago Med­i­cal Cen­ter where his wife is em­ployed. Clin­ton has not pub­licly re­leased her ear­mark re­quests for pre­vi­ous years. One of her ear­marks made the news last year when she at­tempted to se­cure $1 mil­lion for a “hip­pie mu­seum” to com­mem­o­rateWood­stock, a project be­ing pushed by a donor to her cam­paign.

Sen­a­tor John McCain, the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for Pres­i­dent, has made no re­quests for ear­marks in re­cent years. How­ever, he is in the mi­nor­ity in his party.

To their credit, Obama and Clin­ton did join McCain in back­ing a year long mora­to­rium on ear­marks in the Se­nate. How­ever, that mea­sure over­whelm­ingly failed.

Four Con­gress­men from Ge­or­gia— Paul Broun, Nathan Deal, TomPrice and Lyn­nWest­more­land — have pub­licly taken a pledge not to seek nor spon­sor an ear­mark for one year. Some Repub­li­cans be­lieve the party lost con­trol of Congress in 2006 be­cause of the aban­don­ment of fis­cally con­ser­va­tive prin­ci­ples and the record level of pork spend­ing by a GOP con­trolled Congress. I will sub­mit to you that this is very true to an ex­tent. Repub­li­cans, de­spite their best ef­forts, can­not com­pletely dis­miss an un­pop­u­lar war in Iraq as a part of their elec­toral strug­gles, but I di­gress.

Ac­cord­ing to the Club for Growth, 37 mem­bers of House and seven mem­bers of the Se­nate have taken the pledge and it is not exclusive to ei­ther party.

One mem­ber that should be added to that list is Con­gress­man John Lin­der, who rep­re­sents the north­ern tip of New­ton County. Lin­der’s of­fice con­firmed to me while re­search­ing for this ar­ti­cle that he is not seek­ing any ear­marks this year.

I chal­lenge Con­gress­man Jim Mar­shall to add his name to the list of mem­bers ab­stain­ing from ear­marks. Mar­shall, who rep­re­sents the ma­jor­ity of New­ton County, is cer­tainly no stranger to the process. He re­ceived $6.5 mil­lion in ear­marks last year alone.

Democrats have promised trans­parency in the process, but not much has changed. Real re­form is needed that will put th­ese projects out in the open so that tax­pay­ers know how their hard earned money is be­ing spent by their rep­re­sen­ta­tives. I would ar­gue that real re­form is end­ing the prac­tice all to­gether.

Ja­son Pye

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