I was happy to see that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s recent call for the return of earmarks was met with a stern no from House Speaker John Boehner. Their back and forth on the issue is a reminder of the wasted spending of previous congresses and highlights the importance of maintaining an earmark moratorium in the future.
Fortunately, John Boehner got it right when he said that as long as he is speaker “there will be no earmarks.” Earmarks have been one of the largest corrupting factors in American politics over the last 25 years and one of the most egregious examples of government waste. Members of Congress and lobbyists have gone to jail because of earmarks. Our elected officials have recklessly spent money on pet projects that have brought little to zero reward to taxpayers.
Before the earmark moratorium was instituted, earmarks were doled out based upon committee seniority, not national needs. That meant that if you were a member of Congress and not on the appropriations committee you would be at the back of the line as the earmarks were handed out. It didn’t matter if your project was important, it only mattered that you didn’t have seniority.
Over the past two decades, earmarks have included $50 million for an indoor rainforest in Iowa, $500,000 for a teapot museum in Sparta, North Carolina and $100,000 to the Tiger Woods Foundation. These are hardly national necessities. One of the most egregious and infamous examples is the $223 million earmark for the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska, which was the last straw for many Americans. The project became the poster child for government stupidity and largesse.
The Bridge to Nowhere is also a reminder that both parties are to blame for the reckless earmark spending of the past. Republicans were rightfully punished in 2006 for this earmark and the their overall profligate spending. Democrats such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have happily walked arm in arm with their Republican counterparts as they embraced earmarks.
Earmarks have been particularly wasteful because Congress failed to provide the proper oversight. Problematically, oversight was an afterthought as votes were traded for small pieces of pork. Since the early 1990’s there have been roughly $250 billion in earmarks. When Congress spends money they should do so in a way that ensures proper oversight. Instead of earmarking, the money should be spent through a competitive grants process to ensure that it is sent to the proper places and not used as political capital for members to get reelected.
There is a reason that citizens of the United States have rejected earmarks. Earmarks represent a dark time in the country’s history where members of Congress sold their votes and souls for a few morsels of pork. The citizens of the country have had enough of earmarks and we need to make sure that Congress gets the message.