Published: May 8, 2014
Political pressure to bring home the bacon has, perhaps more than anything else, led to runaway federal spending and a debt so big the average mind can barely comprehend it. Government is too large, too intrusive and too expensive. We cannot afford more bridges to nowhere so politicians can bilk the treasury for political gain.
The practice of earmarking legislation, to channel money to pet projects back home, is a long tradition mastered by the most elite politicians. It's a game that encourages more spending. After all, the bigger the spending bill, the more earmarks it can support.
If members of Congress have an easy means of diverting money to their constituents, voters are wise to elect individuals who are best at doing just that. In fact, it should be a prime consideration when choosing members of Congress. Residents of all states and congressional districts pay taxes, so it's naturally in their best interests to make sure a sizable portion of that money comes back. If it isn't spent at home, Congress will spend it somewhere else.
During the government's recession-era budget crisis, the problems associated with earmarks became apparent on both sides of the political aisle.
"More than three years ago, members of Congress in both chambers from both parties stood together to impose a moratorium on the practice of congressional earmarking," wrote Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, a Boulder Democrat, in a letter to congressional leaders co-authored with Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. "The American people celebrated this bipartisan leadership."
Udall's election opponent, Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, was among those who voted to place a moratorium on earmarks and he continues supporting it.
Udall and Coburn authored their letter because a few other members of Congress are yammering to restore earmarks, even in the midst of a sluggish recovery few middle-class Americans have felt. Among them is U.S. Rep. Dallas "Hal" Rogers, a Kentucky Republican who chairs the House Committee on Appropriations. He's joined by other heavy hitters, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate. All are experts at directing pork to their constituents.
Earmarks, they tell us, are the most "democratic" means of distributing federal funds to states and congressional districts.
"I don't like the policy of no earmarks. I think it's not wise," Rogers told a Louisville TV station, explaining that members of Congress know best what their districts need.
Rogers campaigned for chairmanship of appropriations on a pledge to support a ban on earmarks in 2010 - a year in which he earmarked more than $100 million worth of special projects for his rural Kentucky district. Over a 33-year congressional career, Rogers has directed so many hundreds of millions in spending to his district that he's known in Congress as Kentucky's "Prince of Pork." His hometown of Somerset is known in Kentucky as "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" because of the federal money he has secured for it. He channeled a $5 million federal grant to conservation groups that work with cheetahs. Among a few groups eligible for the funds was an organization that employed Rogers' daughter.
There is nothing democratic about lone politicians buying longevity and influence with federal funds, then using that clout to spend even more on their constituents at a cost to everyone else. Congress was right to stop the earmark schemes. If restored, we'll have little hope of controlling spending.