The blubbering has hit the road projects, as the congressional ban on earmarks becomes reality. Tea partiers and other foes of “Big Government” demanded the end to earmarks, also known as pork. Earmarks are but a drop in the federal spending pool, so you can imagine the howls that will emerge from the major budgetary surgery to come.
We read that folks in Wisconsin’s rural Burnett County now fear a possible property tax increase because they can’t get a $1 million earmark for improving their communications system. Some use such worthy examples to argue that earmarks aren’t all that bad. Not me.
If Burnett County residents want to modernize their communications system, why shouldn’t they pay for it? I can assure them, my property taxes are a lot higher than theirs. Earmark funding sends the bills for such projects to me and other federal taxpayers.
I don’t object to federal spending on needs that individuals or local governments can’t efficiently meet. But I don’t see why I should pay for others’ infrastructure because some congressman was able to skirt the normal budgeting channels, which is what earmarking is all about. Pork breeds corruption, and that makes it objectionable, no matter where the money goes.
Some lawmakers, such as Sen. Daniel Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii, don’t see the earmark ban that way. “The reality is that critical needs in communities throughout the country will be neglected,” he said. The truth is that these needs will be neglected only if the communities neglect them.
At least Inouye is honest in his support of earmarks. He doesn’t engage in the two-faced maneuvering more prevalent among some of his Republican colleagues — denouncing government spending while churning out press releases about the pork they’re bringing home. How interesting that Tea Party Caucus members asked for more than $1 billion in pork last year, according to Citizens Against Government Waste. How predictable.
Some clever fellows go around the pork embargo by not calling earmarks “earmarks.” How about “lettermarking”?
When Republican Rep. Mark Kirk ran for President Obama’s old Senate seat, the Illinois Republican condemned earmarks, natch. Turns out that Kirk had previously written a letter to the Department of Education seeking money for a local school district. This is an example of lettermarking. “Phonemarking” involves making similar requests by telephone.
What’s wrong with just asking for money? A lot when the request is really a threat against the department or agency being approached. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Kirk held power over their budgets.
Sen. Kirk has just recently issued a press release announcing his new assignment on the Senate
Appropriations Committee, which, he notes, “has authority over all discretionary expenditures made by the federal government.”
Without earmarks, politicians will have to navigate the proper avenues for federal funding, but they won’t be on Easy Street under Obama’s five-year plan to freeze discretionary domestic spending. Valuable or not, favorably reviewed or not, many projects will not get federal dollars from the increasingly dry well. And we’re talking about a lot more money than the $16 billion spent on earmarks last year.
But the earmarks ban has been more personally felt up to now. Here’s what Steve Tribble, an official in Kentucky’s Christian County, had to say about the loss of earmark funding for a road plan: “I am against some earmarks,’ he told The New York Times. “Not the good ones. I can promise you, this is not a road to nowhere.”
And I believe him. But if this road goes somewhere important, the locals should be more than happy to pay for it.
There is no such thing as a good earmark.