Earmarks are gone – now you know even less about where your money is being spent

I hate to keep beating a dead horse, but the misconceptions over the earmark process haven’t ceased. Now we have Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona on Fox News discussing the issue. I maintain my position that you are not getting your money’s worth if you believe an earmark ban is somehow reducing wasteful spending. Not. Gonna. Happen. Sorry.

Here is a quote from the story:

“An earmark is created when a member of Congress designates money in the federal budget for a particular project, usually in his or her home state or district. Though the earmark does not represent new money in the budget — rather, it tags existing funds for a specific purpose — Flake said he hopes the ban will in turn motivate lawmakers to approve smaller budgets in the first place.”

The key words are “new money”. An earmark is not new money. It only serves as a designator to identify monies specifically dedicated to a specific expenditure. The fact is that earmarks were created by Congress for the very purpose of transparency. It is written in the House rules. These rules are adopted for every new session of Congress. Again, an earmark is transparency. Remove it and the size of the bill isn’t reduced because it was never increased to begin with to accommodate the earmark. The earmark is assigned after the fact. This is all in black and white and available for the public to read themselves if they wish.

Now that the earmarks are gone, members of Congress are simply going to other, less-transparent methods to accomplish the same thing. Lettermarking or phonemarking are a couple of examples. Does anyone really think these members are simply going to give up on wasteful spending simply because the earmark rule was removed? Flake says he hopes the ban will motivate lawmakers to reduce the size of bills accordingly. Pleeeze! Not. Gonna. Happen. No way.

If you’re really interested in reading the specifics, then simply do some Google searching on the specific House rules for earmarking. Or go here and read a study from Cornell Law School that covers it in detail and supports what I’ve been saying. Eliminating earmarks doesn’t save money and decreases transparency. Our wish is to reduce wasteful spending as well as just reducing spending overall. It’s going to take other methods to accomplish that. If you’re into symbolic victories that don’t mean anything, then this is for you. Rest assured that your members of Congress are still hard at work finding ways to get Federal tax dollars funneled back into their districts to repay the lobbyists and special interests. The goal of shedding light on who, what, when, where and why when it comes to spending our tax dollars wisely is a noble one for sure. Why eliminate one of the few rules in Congress that was actually designed to increase transparency?

3 thoughts on “Earmarks are gone – now you know even less about where your money is being spent”

  1. As you know, you have pretty much convinced me that we are somewhat misguided in our attempt to reduce or eliminate earmarks. I still have questions about their use, but if they can be used to identify where the waste is, then more power to them. Once that waste is identified, maybe we can break out the knife and start carving on the budget.

  2. Larry, I would say my position is not to defend earmarks as necessary, nor that they aren’t abused, but instead to reject the notion that eliminating them is reducing wasteful spending or increasing transparency and accountability. We know we won’t save any money by eliminating them. We also are already seeing some of the methods members will utilize to sidestep the ban. Earmark reform was proposed and rejected that would have reined them in and returned them to the transparency tool they were intended for.

    An analagy I like is a charity. Perhaps you’ve been consistently writing your check to a favorite charity each month. You feel good about it and maybe that you’ve done your part as a good samaritan. Then one day you find out that a large portion of your donation is being wasted on large salaries and outlandish expenditures by the administrative staff. Remove that itemizing of expenses, or transparency if you will, and nothing changes except you being unaware of what is going on behind the scenes. An earmark is the same. It was always there previously, it just wasn’t identified as such. The earmarking rules from the 1990’s brought these expenses to light where previously they existed in the shadows.

    You are right to question their use. But I think we would be better served to do the necessary reform to install the safeguards to prevent abuse than we are by simply eliminating them and now being forced to chase down the alternative methods that will now be utilized to keep on spending. We just don’t have enough accountability measures in use period.

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