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  • A Brief History of Earmarks

    Some in Washington seem to believe that the way our nation currently funds infrastructure projects is the only way. For example,  Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) told Politico:

    Let’s look at transportation. How do you handle that without earmarks, since that’s a heavily earmarked bill? How do you handle a Corps of Engineers project? I think, right now, we go through a period where we have gone one step further than we meant to go, and there are some unintended consequences.

    But as the chart to the right demonstrates, the federal government’s dependence on earmarking as THE method for allocating transportation funds is a very recent development. The Heritage Foundation’s Run Utt recently detailed to The Washington Examiner’s Mark Tapscott: “Until 1984, earmarks in transportation appropriations bills averaged about three a year …the 1982 bill included just 10 earmarks, while 1987?s authorized 152.  Back then they were called ‘demonstration’ projects, today they are called ‘high priority’ projects, indicating that the process has corrupted even the language.”

    So our federal government managed to fund transportation for over two  hundreds of years without using today’s corrupting earmarking process. It is possible. But all that changed in the 2000s. A 2007 Department of Transportation Inspector General report requested by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) found that between 1996 and 2005, DOT earmarks increased in number by 1,150%, and in value by 314%. According to Taxpayers Against Earmarks, Members of the 111th Congress requested almost 40,000 earmarks worth $131 billion.

    Earmarking defenders love to claim that they are not that big a deal since earmarks do not create new spending; they only legally require the federal agencies to prioritize some projects over others. There are two problems with this: first, earmarks are often used to buy votes for other increased social spending (there is no Obamacare without the Cornhusker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, or Gator Aid). Second, when politically powerful politicians in Washington earmark money for their favored projects, they are necessarily simultaneously stealing it from other projects. For example, Utt explains how the federal highway program works:

    In the most recent six-year reauthorization of the federal highway program (SAFETEA-LU), Con­gress and the President agreed to spend $286 billion between FY 2004 and FY 2009 on federal highway and transit programs and established annual spend­ing limits. Congress also reconfirmed that the amount allocated to each state would be deter­mined by the same mathematical formula that has governed the program since its creation in the mid-1950s. With each state’s financial apportionment set by formula, most of the money for the 7,000 to 8,000 earmarks listed in the bill must therefore come out of each state’s allocation. Thus, if a mem­ber of the Nevada delegation succeeded in getting a $2 million earmark to build a bicycle trail in Elko in 2005, then that $2 million would be taken out of the $254 million allocated to the Nevada Depart­ment of Transportation (DOT) for that year, effec­tively reducing the state’s discretionary spending on its own priorities by that amount.

    One of the reasons why earmarks are included in spending bills even though they provide no addi­tional money is that they allow lobbyists and Mem­bers of Congress to preempt a state DOT’s investment priorities. The state may otherwise have concluded that a new lane on a congested highway in a Las Vegas suburb would be more beneficial than a hiking trail, but earmarks allow Washington play­ers to overrule that decision and reallocate the money to other purposes while pretending that the earmark represents extra money.


    Posted in Ongoing Priorities [slideshow_deploy]

    9 Responses to A Brief History of Earmarks

    1. Stephan, Houston says:

      The only way to fix the government is for conservatives to stop spending and start saving in big numbers. This will force the government to figure out how to do with less.

    2. Pingback: PA Pundits - International

    3. R Holland, Chandler, says:

      Stop earmarks!!!

    4. Lloyd Scallan (New O says:

      The only way to stop the abuse of the absurdity of "earmarks" is quite simple.

      Do not allow "earmarks" to be buried in thousand of pages of other bills being

      considered in Congress. Each and every bill must stand alone and voted on

      seperately with nothing added. If any Congressmen want to steal our tax dollars,

      he should be forced to do it in the light of day for all of his constitutents to see.

    5. Corky, Howey in the says:

      A new law is in order here. No Ear Marks whatsoever!. Non. That way there is no favors being played anywhere. Then,a law forbiding "Bribes for votes." That should have been outlawed the minute it was tried. Also, the President and Congress Canot go behind closed doors to make policy and then try to force it down our throats like stimulus, obamacare and others. This present Congress has made a mockery of the United States and are still pushing as hard as they can to please a Lame Duck president…

    6. Allan Dodge Kissimme says:

      I believe we may have already lost the war as the public unions now exceed the private and govt. workers are not going to vote themselves out of a job….However, EARMARKS might be a battle we could win and create a culture of a more responsible congress……..and how about making ALL of congress fall under all of the laws of the governed….

    7. Steve Dulin says:

      I have friends that spend every penny they make and it would appear they are successful. The rub is that many are running away from their homes, cars, boats, and other obligations because they spend more than they made. This is before the economy went south. Now it is an excepted behavior to walk away from your finacial responsibilities. How did we get to this point? Because the people we put our trust in to save us from ourselves behave in the same manor. Elected officials are not the cream of the crop anymore, instead they are the same irresponsible citizens that the rest of us keep bailing out of trouble. CEO's are not choosen because they bankrupt their previous employer. To make things even worse, if CEO's behaved like politicians they might just go to jail. So how do we turn around the irresponsible public voting for irresponsible politicians? REVOLUTION!

    8. Bobbie says:

      Ban all earmarks. Earmarks opens corruption and drowns the initial intent.

    9. Evelia in Tallahasse says:

      Take over the governament jobs and give them to the public to run. Example core of engineers , private company's can be used to do all the infrasturture for less money faster and hire more people that know how to do a better job.

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