Home > Uncategorized > The Political Expediency of Earmark Reform

The Political Expediency of Earmark Reform

Earmarks are evil. Or so we’ve been told over and over and over again.

The Democrats called for a hold on earmarks to for-profit corporations; not to be outdone, the Republicans say “Nay, NAY” to earmarks to anyone, non-profits included!

Despite the almost one trillion of tax-payer dollars the Congress so readily distributed to so-called “Too Big to Fail” firms, Congress has decided that the billions spent collectively by Congress to aid projects in their districts must be ended.

In 2009, Congress spent $19.9 billion and in 2010 so far has spent roughly $15.9 billion, according to analysis by Taxpayers for Common Sense.

In reality, that is .6% of the 2009 budget and .4% of the 2010 budget respectively.

I am going to say something completely politically incorrect in the current angry political climate:

Earmarks are not bad things.

First, earmarks are the only quantifiable way in which constituents can judge the effectiveness of their members of Congress. While constituents can monitor the number of bills or resolutions their members introduce, only a lawmaker’s ability to provide direct financial support for projects and programs in his/her district is a substantive measurement of their actual impact for the local community.

Second, earmarks to for-profit companies – especially in a bad economic climate – helps new job creation. Firms that receive earmark money can use that money to hire more employees, raise salaries of the currently employed and develop and grow their businesses. Earmarks do more to help the economy than the faulty TARP and stimulus and job creation bills ever could.

Third, earmarks to non-profits aid social service and educational institutions in ways that general contributors and foundations cannot. Educational institutions – especially community colleges and small colleges and universities – will have to cut back on services and programs and raise tuition with the cut of earmarks. During a difficult economic time like this, federal earmark support can grant low- and moderate-income students access to an education that they otherwise would not be able to receive. In turn, those students turned graduates can enter the workforce with tools they otherwise would not have had. Students become workers, who become taxpayers, which means more money into the economy.

All of this is not to say that there is not a need for earmark reform. But the knee-jerk reaction against earmarks by politicians and many Americans does not recognize the importance that they play in legitimate support for employment and nonprofit activities in the US.

Ending outright any use of earmarks is Congress biting off its nose to spite its face. But members support the idea because it looks like they’re doing something even when it will have no real impact. Again, earmarks account for less than .5% of the federal budget.

Real earmark reform means putting political capital on the line at a time when Congress has none left. A Gallup poll released today says that

Americans hold Congress in far less esteem than they do the president — 16% approve and 80% disapprove of the job Congress is doing, according to the latest update from a March 4-7 Gallup poll. That is just two points off the record-low 14% Gallup measured in July 2008.

Often I hear from anti-earmark activists that, “The fact of the matter is: we are financially broke as a country. We have deficits as far as the eye can see.” No question! But cutting the .6% of the budget from 2009 and .4% of the budget from 2010 to reduce our deficits won’t make a difference!

True earmark reform requires reform of the US budget as a whole, especially entitlement reform. Until we appropriately manage Social Security and Medicare, eliminate unnecessary spending on duplicate programs and programs that don’t work, reduce Americans’ dependence on the government to solve all of their problems while weaning Americans off the public tea , improve our trade deficits, and once again build a successful production-manufacturing market in the country to make our services-driven economy, we will continue to be deficit heavy.

For those of you want to stand up and say “Enough is enough! We don’t have the money!”, I encourage you! I even beg you! But stand up and say it against the TARP program, the bailout programs, the $947 billion healthcare overhaul, the $15 billion jobs bill, and so on and so on.

  1. March 19, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Nice writing style. I look forward to reading more in the future.

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