General Question

Strauss's avatar

Should the "earmark" process be reformed or possibly banned?

Asked by Strauss (20327points) March 27th, 2014

Note: My question was inspired by a side conversation generated on this thread.

As some of you may know, all appropriations legislation, that is, any legislation having to do with money, originates in the House of Representatives. In 2013 the US Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner announced a renewal of the ban on “earmarks” for the current session. What this means is that members of the House of Representatives can no longer insert itemized requests into legislation. Great, right? it means no more wasteful Bridges to Nowhere! But wait! According to an article in the New York Times, this ability has been replaced by the practice of sourcing requests to full committees or appealing directly to agencies to have part of the pie shipped their way.

This is a way to do an end-run around the ban, and seems to be more shady, and provide a more elusive money trail.

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13 Answers

janbb's avatar

I see a difference between earmarks and pork. (Pork tastes much better.) Seriously though, I think part of a representative’s job is to get Federal funding for improvement projects in his or her district and it is necessary. What shouldn’t be done is attaching it to unrelated bills as a rider. Why not have separate legislation for Federal funding of local projects (in batches) and have them be reviewed in committee?

Jaxk's avatar

The Times article is really informative. It shows that congress is better at sidestepping laws than it is at creating them.

bolwerk's avatar

Earmarks are probably unavoidable. If you’re building a train line, you need to acquire land, lay track and signals, build stations, buy equipment, etc.. Afterwards, you need to pay people to run the network. There is only so much you can do to avoid making decisions that spend money in certain discrete places.

@janbb is probably right. Pork might be an abuse of earmarks, but earmarking is a tool that can be used for good or ill. Though, one thing that could be done is to simply stop federal operating financing of infrastructure and leave it to states.

janbb's avatar

@bolwerk Then a bridge in Mississippi might indeed be a bridge to nowhere – certain death!

Darth_Algar's avatar

I’m completely and totally against earmarks and pork (except when it’s for my district).

bolwerk's avatar

@janbb: on the flip side, blue states might have a little left over! D-:

GloPro's avatar

The John P. Murtha Airport is a prime example that the checks and balances on federal spending needs fresh ideas. This airport has received $150 million in earmark funding and is federally subsidizing every passenger that flies on top of that. There are fewer than 30 people per day using this airport, which has one main flight to DC. The drive to DC is only 3.5 hours. The drive to the Pittsburg airport is less than 2 hours.
Rep. Murtha has his own private, federally funded, airport to get him to DC. How? Well, it was slipped into the fine print of a bill that was a sure pass.

It’s total bullshit. That is one example of hundreds. That money was also diverted to other projects in town, and not used for the approved cause, regardless of how stupid and wasteful that cause was.

I don’t know a better way to decide on smaller federally funded projects, but tucking them into proposed bills that are hundreds of pages long and forcing agreement because you want to pass the bill itself is a thinly veiled smokescreen. There has to be a better way.

Cruiser's avatar

Pork or Earmarks means votes…it’s that simple. Appropriations are the life blood of every member of Congree and Congress will never sever one their main arteries of campaign funding they have.

This line at Wiki caught my eye…

“Since Congress is elected from single-member districts, how well the member secures rewards for his or her district is one of the best indicators as to whether or not he or she will be re-elected.”

GloPro's avatar

@Cruiser sure, that’s obvious. The question was should it be reformed, or re-worded, should it be that way? Half of these projects are not needed and constituents don’t genuinely benefit. But they pay…

Cruiser's avatar

@GloPro I am not smart enough to know of a better way to manage this part of Government spending. Approprations account for over 30% of Government spending and these committees play a vital role in deciding where this money is spent. AFAICT back rooms deals are the exception and not the norm and it is the bridges to nowhere that give appropriations a bad rap to an otherwise essential way of Government getting money to areas that need it most.

All we can do is keep an eye on Congress and there are lots of watchdog groups that make their living doing so and if and when a Congressman breaks bad and does shady deals, he/she is exposed and they don’t get re-elected. That is how it has worked all along.

Judi's avatar

Our democracy is messy. Earmarks are a way of getting stuff done in tough negotiations. It’s a part of the compromise. Our government has a hard enough time compromising right now. I think it’s foolish and dangerous to take away one of the few tools we have left to get anything done.

CWOTUS's avatar

Yes, Congress should pass a law banning earmarks. That’ll fly almost as far as pigs can.

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