Here’s an unpleasant blast from the past that you probably thought we’d heard the last of. The old process of earmark spending – giving members of Congress specific budget allocations for pet projects back home – was finally done away with several years ago. The practice was often used to secure votes from members who might not otherwise have offered their support for various bits of legislation. These earmarks led to all manner of strange votes and curious project around the country with the bridge to nowhere being one of the most fabled ones.
But pork barrel spending may be experiencing a comeback. The new class of Democrats showing up for work in Washington are reportedly big fans of the idea and there are even some Republicans reconsidering the process. (The Hill)
With Democrats back in control of the House after eight years of Republican control, there is strong support for reviving earmarks — the power to direct money on pet projects — which caused a major scandal in Congress during the George W. Bush years.
Senate and House lawmakers from both parties predict there will be a serious push to bring back earmarks once the government shutdown is finally over — with one exception.
Earmarks is a dirty word, so if the specially allocated funds return, they will be referred to as “congressionally directed spending.”
Ah… now I see how they plan to do it. We just won’t call them earmarks anymore. They’ll be known as “congressionally directed spending.” I’m sure nobody will notice the change with that clever bit of revised wording.
All kidding aside, I have something of a confession to make. I was one of the biggest critics of pork barrel spending back in the day and was greatly relieved when it was done away with. But more recently, even I have had moments when I wondered if perhaps the current situation in Washington is even worse without earmarks. That system did allow for some deals to get done in Congress when we would have otherwise been stuck with perpetual gridlock. Granted, not all the deals were gems and some were downright awful, but some members at least wound up considering different options and occasionally working together.
Now, it’s rare to see any of the members consistently voting for the specific best interests of their constituents back home. It feels like everyone who gets elected just puts on one jersey or the other and starts in voting for their “team” based entirely on national, party platform issues. Would that change significantly if we allowed earmarks to sneak back into the system? Bah… probably not.
In the end, it’s still the responsibility of each legislator to vote with their conscience and be held accountable by their constituents. Earmarks may not add up to a huge wad of cash, but they still represent taxpayer money that shouldn’t be ladled out to curry favor or buy votes. Still, I’ve got a bad feeling that we may be seeing them rise from the grave like a zombie later this year.