And So I Go: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

An earmark by any other name…. is still an earmark – Blog – OpenCongress

Posted on: February 8, 2011

An earmark by any other name…. is still an earmark – Blog – OpenCongress.

Betcha thought your Congressmen and women were no longer going to stuff Appropriation Bills with earmarks.  Well, you were right: no more ear marks in Appropriation Bills.  But—–our elected officials are not dumb; they are  scheming  liars in suits and ties.  They are after all mainly lawyers.  Now spending for special projects for Congressmen’s states and districts are showing up in all bills as line items, but they are certainly “not earmarks”.

The bipartisan position among members of Congress is that it’s not an earmark if it’s not in one of the 12 annual appropriations bill. So, even if it’s a line item in a bill that was requested by a specific member, directs funds to a specific project, and authorizes those funds to be disbursed, if it’s not in an appropriations bill, it’s not an earmark.

As absurd as that sounds, I’d say it’s actually not as absurd as the logic behind the whole earmark ban itself. There has never been a single definition of what exactly an earmark is. In the most general sense of the word — a congressionally-directed spending item — the entire budget is earmarked because Congress is the entity that decides how to divvy up the federal funds. Instituting a ban on earmarks gives Congress a chance to define the word, and what they chose to have it mean just happens to be one of the most transparent elements of the appropriations process — member line items. Obviously, disclosure of those earmarks could have (and still should) be dramatically improved, but the alternative that we’re entering now is definitely worse. There are no clear rules, no single place for reporters and citizens to look to find out who’s responsible for what areas of spending, and no way to judge what kind of impact earmarks are having on the budget.

This is whywe need earmark transparency, not a ban. Obama seemed to understand this in his 2011 SotU speech. He called for better disclosure then. Now, led by the Republicans who swept into power this year on a wave of fiscal responsibility, Obama has changed course and called for an outright ban. But let’s be clear. Banning earmarks is not fiscally responsible. It does not reduce the budget or the deficit by one cent. What it does is make the budgeting process more secretive and give more control of the commons to the connected, moneyed interests that are working to manipulate Congress.

Congress men and women are still for sale as they have always  been.   BB


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