arteejee

A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Friday, December 03, 2010

A Bad Rap for Earmarks?

Since the election changed the political landscape in Washington, some old ideas are being dusted off and given a second look. One such issue is earmarks, or funding for pet projects usually requested by a member of Congress that benefits their home district. Politicians from both sides of the aisle have been jumping onto the repeal earmarks bandwagon because they believe many Americans are against them. Do earmarks really deserve this bad rap?

Like any concept, earmarks can be flawed and imperfect. It’s also true these funding requests can be subject to abuse and corruption, but the same could be said for many other products borne out of politics. On the flip side, earmarks can fund any number of projects on the local level. The projects could be road or infrastructure improvements, or for other economic development. In other words, these earmarks can create JOBS!

Horrors! Jobs for Americans! What are we thinking?

Despite this dubious benefit, earmarks are seen as some sort of intrinsic evil. Critics complain they add to the overall deficit. Some of the projects could be seen as pointless, or where the cost greatly outweighs the final result. Both arguments are valid, but have been overblown by opponents of the concept.

Yes, funds for earmarks are included in the budget, and in that regard they can become part of the deficit problem. People fail to keep in mind, however, that while earmark projects are listed in terms of millions or billions of dollars (which seems like a huge amount of money to anxiety-ridden conservatives), the deficit itself is counted in trillions of dollars (which really is a lot of money). Overall, the costs of all earmark projects add up to a percentage of less than one percent of the federal budget. In other words, eliminating earmarks may not make such a big difference in the great scheme of things.

So why do we attack them? Earmarks are vulnerable because they are a tangible concept. For example, lawmakers can score political points with the electorate by promising more jobs for people and more prosperity. They may even pass laws that give business incentives to create jobs, but beyond that there’s no guarantee the law will work. Business success is dependent on a variety of factors — supply, demand, market forces, debt, investment, profits, overreaching greed of the Gordon Gekkos on Wall Street, and so on — all of which is out of the legislators’ control.

Oh, but earmarks, now that’s something we can get our arms around. We can define it as bad when the economy is tanking, or we can choose to look the other way when times are good. We can cite an extreme example — Alaska’s infamous “bridge to nowhere” that was alternately welcomed, then disparaged, by then-Governor Sarah Palin — and make that one project emblematic of all the other earmarks.

Recently one earmark opponent found himself trying to side step an earmark project that in retrospect wasn’t very bad. Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) inserted a water project into a larger bill intended to pay a large settlement to Native Americans who sued the government for being cheated out of oil and gas royalties. The $200 million dollar water project will bring a clean water supply involving a dam, a reservoir and treatment plant to the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Kyl denied it was an earmark to his critics, but in doing so made himself look like a hypocrite.

Horrors! We took their land, and we cheated them out of mineral rights. Now we want to give them fresh drinking water for themselves and their businesses! What are we thinking?

The settlement — totaling over $570 million - is a small step on the road to righting centuries old wrongs inflicted on Native Americans. Earmark or not, it is a worthy endeavor. Yet the movement to abolish them will persist.

So if we eliminate earmarks, then all will be right with the world. In a word: no. Legislators will go other routes to get their home projects paid for. For example, Congress could request funds through the pertinent government agencies rather than through legislation. This process will make everyone involved look devious and hypocritical. In truth, earmarks will not be going away anytime soon. We might as well learn to manage them against abuse and corruption, and reform the process, rather than toss everything out the window.

(Thank you for reading. No earmarks were requested or used in the production of this blog!)

1 Comments:

Anonymous rashid1891 said...

Oh, but earmarks, now that’s something we can get our arms around. We can define it as bad when the economy is tanking, or we can choose to look the other way when times are good. We can cite an extreme example — Alaska’s infamous “bridge to nowhere” that was alternately welcomed, then disparaged, by then-Governor Sarah Palin — and make that one project emblematic of all the other earmarks.

December 9, 2010 at 1:34 AM  

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