Hold on to your wallet. Earmarks, the most corruptible and wasteful type of government spending, will be making a comeback if a handful of House Republicans have their way. These pigs in elephants’ clothing want to end a three-year moratorium on earmarks and start trading pork projects for votes in order to pass legislation.
Earmarks are expenditures slipped in spending bills that are not competitively awarded and serve only a local or special interest. Most earmarks are part of a disgraceful parade of vote buying in which a member of Congress sells his vote in exchange for money to fund a pork project in his district in the hopes that the project will buy the votes of his constituents.
Recent examples of earmarks include a $50-million handout to build an indoor rain forest in Iowa, $500,000 in tax money that went to a now-defunct teapot museum in North Carolina and a $100,000 giveaway to the Tiger Woods Foundation.
The most famous earmark of all, the Bridge to Nowhere, received such public scrutiny that the $398-million pork project in rural Alaska was scrapped altogether.
In 2010, facing public backlash for a rash of wasteful spending and outrageous stimulus projects, members of Congress agreed to a temporary moratorium on earmarks. The result has been heartening for taxpayers. Earmarks have decreased considerably in the past three years, from $16.5 billion in 2010 to $9.5 billion this year.
Obviously, the moratorium has more loopholes than a doughnut shop, as the nearly $10 billion worth of earmarks enacted this fiscal year illustrate. But the bigger problem plaguing the moratorium is that it will sunset when the new Congress convenes next January.
Even that isn’t soon enough for some lawmakers.
During a closed-door meeting of GOP House members back in March, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama became annoyed that the House of Representatives often fails to cobble together the 218 votes necessary to pass legislation.
Rather than viewing Congress’ difficulty in passing stacks of laws — many of which guzzle tax dollars and trample liberties — as a reason to celebrate, Rogers recommended doling out earmarks to bribe members to pass more legislation. Troublingly, Rogers was not alone in his enthusiasm for exhuming earmarks. Reps. Louis Gohmert and Key Granger, both Texas Republicans, echoed Rogers’ support of earmarking.
Another supporter of earmarks, Steven LaTourette, (R-Ohio), made perhaps the most chilling admission of all, conceding that earmarks are the Capitol Hill currency of choice to cajole and bully lawmakers into voting certain ways. “You can’t get 218 votes and part of that has to be if you can’t give people [earmarks], you can’t take anything away from them,” LaTourette, who is thankfully retiring from Congress, recently told Reuters.
LaTourette’s comments prove what most taxpayers already know: Earmarks are nothing more than bribes to buy the votes of members of Congress who don’t have the brains to think for themselves or the backbones to stand up for their beliefs.
This new threat of earmarks may finally push Congress to pass a bill championed by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., that would permanently eliminate earmarks. Additionally, voters disgusted by Washington’s bloated budget, wasteful spending and the return of the unscrupulous vote buying associated with earmarking may take their frustrations out on the supporters of earmarks in Congress by voting them out of office.
On second thought, the specter of earmarks may be just what this Congress needs.
Drew Johnson is the editor of the Free Press opinion page at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Prior to joining the Times Free Press, Drew founded and served as president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research (now the Beacon Center to Tennessee). Under Drew’s leadership, the organization became one of the most innovative and effective state-based free market think tanks in the country, saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and ushering in a ...