I’m trying to understand exactly what congressional earmarks are. I found this definition from the Executive Office of Management and Budget:
The Administration defines "earmarks" as "funds provided by the Congress for projects, programs, or grants where the purported congressional direction (whether in statutory text, report language, or other communication) circumvents otherwise applicable merit-based or competitive allocation processes, or specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the executive branch to manage its statutory and constitutional responsibilities pertaining to the funds allocation process." [bold mine]
This definition implies that earmarks are unethical at best, illegal at worst. If this is so, how can they knowingly exist at all? Why is cutting them to a certain level or of interest to Congress and the President?
Neither the members of Congress nor the President can agree on what actually constitutes an earmark. I have seen them alternatively referred to as “pet spending projects,” “pork,” and even mere “doughnut holes” by the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee (who, in a surprising reversal of that earlier dismissal, called attention to his personal victory in the fight against them yesterday). Those are pretty silly names for what at first glance seems to be a violation of the Constitution.
In all cases, it seems there is general agreement that earmarks, like declaring war without congressional approval, scavenging dormant House bills to which the Senate adds revenue raising provisions so they may legally pass them, and reconciliation, are a rather dirty business. Earmarks are enough of a problem to be addressed by the then new President Obama a year ago today, when he said:
Now, let me be clear: Done right, earmarks have given legislators the opportunity to direct federal money to worthy projects that benefit people in their districts, and that's why I've opposed their outright elimination. And I also find it ironic that some of those who rail most loudly against this bill because of earmarks actually inserted earmarks of their own –- and will tout them in their own states and their own districts.
But the fact is that on occasion, earmarks have been used as a vehicle for waste, and fraud, and abuse. Projects have been inserted at the 11th hour, without review, and sometimes without merit, in order to satisfy the political or personal agendas of a given legislator, rather than the public interest. There are times where earmarks may be good on their own, but in the context of a tight budget might not be our highest priority. So these practices hit their peak in the middle of this decade, when the number of earmarks had ballooned to more than 16,000, and played a part in a series of corruption cases.
Without merit? Without a review? May be good on their own? How can this be so? As it turns out, earmarks are dirty enough to be banned outright by the House of Representatives as reported in the New York Times today.
The ban is the most forceful step yet in a three-year effort in Congress to curb abuses in the use of earmarks, which allow individual lawmakers to award financing for pet projects to groups and businesses, many of them campaign donors. [emphasis mine]
So how can something which is at best a circumvention of the Constitution be further banned? And when I say “banned” I mean only for for-profit businesses.
“The political reality right now is that the public has lost some confidence in this institution, and one of the reasons is the past abuses of the earmark process,” Mr. Obey said. Earmarks for profit-making companies are “the most vulnerable place” for abuse in the system, he added. [emphasis mine]
Is there anything wrong with this chain of reasoning? Rent-seeking politicians, who should be readily identifiable, add last-minute inappropriate appropriations of federally expropriated funds for their constituents or financial backers, cause an abuse of a legislative vehicle which is already a circumvention of the Constitution – and all for-profit companies are discredited in the matter?
Where is the outrage?
This reasoning concludes that earmarks remain to be seen as important to the legislative process, but only when given to nonprofits. Why? It would seem that working for the “public good” is virtuous whereas working for personal profit is a sin.
I found this opinion piece written by Amity Shlaes last year, when President Obama literally dumped on the economy of Nevada, appropriate to two of these points.
Nevada has no income tax, and it takes two-thirds of the vote in the state legislature for any new tax to become law. For a long time, such business-friendly policies produced fabulous growth. In 1970, some 6.8 million visitors came to Vegas; in 2007 that figure was 39 million. Population grew 25 percent in this decade alone.
While the state’s racier businesses serve as a draw, a big share of Nevada’s job creation comes from booze, food and hotel rooms. Nevada’s prosperity also has enabled it to help the rest of the nation. According to the Tax Foundation, Nevada gets back from the federal government far less than it sends to Washington in federal taxes -- unlike, say, virtuous Utah, which has, historically, been a net taker.
The point here is as obvious as a neon sign: Government pork tends to produce junk gross domestic product, because even really smart government doesn’t allocate capital optimally. To dismiss what GDP Nevada generates as junkier than what Washington might generate is misguided, since Nevadans most of the time probably know better what investments make sense.
So let me see if I’ve got this right. While the politicians who have sworn to uphold the Constitution subsequently abuse the already compromised system, but are not held responsible for their own unethical or illegal actions, and the nonprofits which have written into their missions statement that they operate for the “greater good” and are therefore assumed to be beyond reproach and are not taxed for their profits, it is only the businessman – the for profit businessman, the man who aspires to and subsequently works for his own benefit – whose profits and businesses are taxed for his efforts, upon whose productivity, whose earnings, whose back the entire weight of this political graft rests.
The Right to Work
Another perversion the government is trying to foist on us has been succinctly expressed in John Stossel’s latest op-ed in the Atlasphere. As I pointed out in December, more people, with the help of the Institute of Justice, are beginning to fight back for their own right to work! Who needs a jobs bill? Just get government out of the way!
It’s a Jungle Out There
How about this for perverted? The government passes a law which makes it prohibitively expensive for you to do business. And when you close your doors, the government and its PR firm, the main stream media, blames you for betraying your customers!
An outrageous perversion of justice you say?
Sadly, it’s what just happened to Amazon.com and its Affiliates program in Colorado. Read some good analysis of the situation here and here.
Let’s Get ‘er Done!
As a final rant, I needed to highlight a few phrases I discovered today that pass for the promotion of good legislation.
Representative Obey on the House passage of the HIRE act.
Mr. Obama opted to avoid a confrontation with Congress over earmarks and signed the spending bill the day he received it, calling it “imperfect” but saying he did not want to get “bogged down” over the issue.
Getting “bogged down” over the issue is a lot like getting confused by the facts, no?
“This ban will ensure good stewardship of taxpayer dollars by the federal government across all agencies,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. Huh? How so? Will it prevent the congressmen from acting unethically or illegally? Or will it just throttle the productive sector of the economy until there is no more money over which the power-brokers can pretend to be good stewards?
I can’t begin to address the lack of principles in the politicians pleas for healthcare reform – I can handle only one big perversion at a time, thanks.
In addition to getting a little fired up, I’m left wondering: what will it take for more of us to understand that government is supposed to work for us in protecting our individual rights, not give us stuff, control our lives, or as we live in a constitutional republic, bend to the will of the majority – all of which violates our rights.
The American government is supposed to work for us – not the other way around.
I may not know much more about legality or historic slide into acceptance of earmarks than when I started to research them this morning. Somewhere along the way, though, I deepened my understanding of the perverting power of the institutionalized altruistic slime running through the hands of this pragmatic Administration and its leftist minions.