PLEASE! Don’t Call it a Comeback!

David Williams

November 2, 2012

Say it ain’t so.  When you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, neither option looks good.  So maybe we should give Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) a little bit of flack for saying he’ll consider loosening the earmark ban given that he’s in such a heated election battle.  Not so fast, some actions are just downright unacceptable, no matter what sort of pickle you’re in.  It is not ok even to consider bringing back earmarks even if promising pork to your district is the thing that will gain you reelection.

Politicians don’t like losing lections, but they really don’t like losing power.  This is why we keep rehashing the earmark debate.  No matter if it’s an earmark by a different name or a blatant example of dole for a district, the practice is not acceptable period.  Rep. Boustany had no problem alluding to the fact in a recent Politico article that, “Clearly the earmark ban has limited members of Congress’s ability to deal with important public works projects.”   In other words he’s upset he’s lost that bargaining chip and bragging right to take back money to his district.  The only thing that is clear in Boustany’s statement is that he clearly doesn’t understand what constitutes “important public works.”  Nearly all of the projects that would qualify as part of that category are more than sufficiently funded.  The last thing we need is to have handouts and pet projects for individual districts presented under the auspices of public works projects.  Boustany tries to make the resurgence of earmarks a little more palpable by saying “I think there’s interest in Congress in maybe looking back at reinstating Congress’s ability to deal with those kinds of public works projects that have been thoroughly vetted in the public eye and where there is state matching money.  Just in discussions with members of Congress, I think there’s going to be interest in maybe looking back at trying to loosen the earmark ban in that respect.”  TPA thinks that taxpayers will have a different view, one that may have him looking for a new job if he supported such a comeback.

Earmarks have been the bribery currency of Congress for many years, as both parties used them to buy votes, bring federal dollars to their district and ultimately get re-elected.  Former members of Congress including Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) were sent to jail for accepting bribes to secure earmarks.  Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff also spent time in jail in connection with earmarks promised to clients.  The notorious “Bridge to Nowhere” earmark became a national symbol of government waste.

Unfortunately, our nation’s history is now full of examples of wasteful spending due to the practice of congressional earmarking.  Some of the most egregious examples include:  $50,000,000 for an indoor rain forest in Iowa; $500,000 for a teapot museum; and $100,000 for the Tiger Woods Foundation.

Earmarks circumvent established budgetary processes and procedures and further exacerbate taxpayers’ cynicism of Washington, D.C.  Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has called earmarks “the gateway drug to spending addiction in Washington.”  The current $16 trillion national debt is partly due to Congress being more concerned about earmarks than the financial well-being of the country.

In 2010, the House and Senate agreed to a two year moratorium on earmarks, yet there were reports of Congress backsliding on this promise – with earmarks being found in the fiscal year 2012 appropriations bills.

Backwards is not the direction Congress needs to be moving, and even hinting at bringing back earmarks is a serious step backwards.