Earmarks: Congressional addicts in denial
On Thursday, Politico reported that Congressional Republicans are having second thoughts about their self-imposed earmark moratorium.
At issue for Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is the definition of what actually constitutes an earmark.
According to Republican Conference rules, an earmark constitutes “any request for ‘authorizing or recommending a specific amount of discretionary budget authority, credit authority or any other spending authority for a contract, loan, loan guarantee, grant, loan authority or other expenditure with or to an entity, or targeted to a specific state, locality or congressional district other than through a statutory or administrative-formula-driven or competitive award process.’”
Bachmann claims that this definition is cumbersome because it cedes the “power of the purse” to the executive branch. While this may be true, Bachmann’s underlying concern seems to center on her ability to win brownie points with constituents for district projects.
Now we know soon-to-be House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) missed the overriding message of the 2010 elections, which is that we cannot continue on the course of “business as usual” in Washington, but we would have thought that Rep. Bachmann, a self-professed conservative, would have had the fortitude to battle temptation for longer than one month.
As Ms. Bachmann flirts with Clintonesque contortions to defining “earmarks” (a la “that depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is”), it’s important to remind Bachmann and other congressional Republicans who may be waffling of the dangers associated with earmarks.
A recent study found that members of Congress requested more than 39,000 earmarks worth in excess of $130 billion for the current fiscal year. Now we don’t know how much time it took to submit these requests, but this study leads us to believe that in 2010 members of Congress put more thought and time into attempting to secure a very small percentage of the federal budget (less than one percent or roughly $16 billion annually) for their own purposes than they did studying the mammoth Obamacare legislation.
Aside from the colossal waste of time associated with cultivating pork, it is important to note that earmarks are a detriment to the economy. According to a Harvard University study, public money, particularly in the form of earmarks, tends to freeze out private spending — “‘[p]ublic spending appears to increase demand for state-specific factors of production and thereby compel firms to downsize and invest elsewhere.’” Over time, earmarks, which initially seem like a good idea, become an economic burden because they “hurt job growth” and “harm local communities.” But don’t take our word for it; some of the side effects of public spending associated with the 2009 federal stimulus package (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009), a smorgasbord of earmarks, has already led to serious economic harm.
Instead of wasting the public’s time trying to curry favor with district constituents for economically irrational pet-projects, Congressional Republicans should be spending their time winning back public confidence by simply doing what we sent them to Washington for — fixing the economy and lowering the unemployment rate.