There’s nothing inherently evil about an earmark. Suppose a bunch of people write to a Senator saying that the street they live on needs to be widened to reduce congestion. There is already a bill before Congress to do that sort of thing, so the Senator throws in an earmark to make sure that some of the money gets directed to the place where his constituents think it is particularly needed. Congress is writing the bill—and can decide whether it’s going to decide how the money gets distributed or whether to delegate that to somebody else. In the case of an earmarks, it’s making part of the decsion for things Congress considers important and delegating the rest.
Unless a Senator decides to slip an earmark into a bill that gives a lucrative contract to a private company that may or may not have donated to his campaign. Or perhaps the Senator decides to build a museum or something that doesn’t seem to have much to do with interstate commerce? Or perhaps an earmarks benefit only communites that voted overwhelmingly for the Senator. These are problems.
In between there are a whole lot of gray areas. An earmark might be added as a compromise to get a Senator to vote on a bill he or she did not think was in the interests of his or her state. A Senator might ask community leaders where federal funds would be useful, which might both identify where money could be productively spent and encourage those same leaders to stay in the Senator’s good graces. An earmark could be immensely large and bring a disproportionate share of federal money to a specific state. Like Alaska.
And when we talk about government waste, earmarks may be part of the problem, but they’re only a relatively small part. In the current spending bill, under 2% of the bill is earmarks. That’s still a lot of money—and it’s a good place to investigate if we’re looking for wasteful projects. But aggressive earmark reform isn’t going to transform the government into a lean, mean, efficiency machine.
It’s unclear that eliminating earmarks entirely would actually benefit anybody. On the other hand, eliminating earmarks that benefit specific companies or increasing transparency in earmarks or ensuring that earmarks can be discussed and debated.
Watchmen online video. This is a terrible, unfunny, unbelievably stupid, and poorly-made Watchmen online video. Compare and contrast. It’s kinda like Goofus and Gallant, really. (via Douglas and Alex.)