28 Jan 2011

Corruption at the Root of Need for Earmark Ban

Those who have bought into the talking point, used by congresspersons on both sides of the aisle, that earmarks wont really save us much money and that its taking away rights that they are supposed to have and giving it to the executive branch… they really are getting suckered.

I wouldn’t say tens of billions of dollars is chump change… and anywhere we can save billions is something we should be doing… but that isn’t the big issue here. Its also garbage that congress gives up power they should have to the executive branch. The regular way of designating money back to the states can be done in a way that congress determines how the money is allocated. The Executive Branch has to follow those rules.

Banning earmarks doesn’t transfer power to the executive branch, it transfers power from individual powerful lawmakers in certain positions and spreads it out more among all of them. It forces them to go through a much more open process… and here’s the crux… makes it much harder to funnel money directly to supporters back home.

There is a whole industry of lobbyists who feed off of earmarks. They don’t get paid for nothing. Even some lobbyists are honest enough to admit it, like this guy from a recent article at The Hill:

The earmark ban “is going to lead to long-term change on K Street,” said Michael Herson, the president of American Defense International, one of the largest defense consulting and lobbying firms in Washington. “You will have to be able to perform a broader service rather than just get earmarks. The focus would shift to the policy and the bigger picture.”

I can see how corrupt politicians are arguing against this… but how so many people have been fooled by these obvious lies… I really don’t get it.

The only ones who would lose anything from Obama following through on his promise to ban earmarks are corrupt lawmakers, bottom feeder lobbyists who feed off of the process and dirty businesspeople who exploit this loophole.

Author Details
After a few years of blogging on other sites, Solomon launched ‘Rise of the Center’ – the precursor to Uniters.org, leading to a number of interviews and freelance opportunities, most notably covering the 2012 election cycle on WNYC.org – the website for the largest NPR station in the country, in New York City – and reported from the floor of the 2012 Democratic & Republican National Conventions. After a hiatus from politics, the horrific circus of the 2016 election, and more generally increasing extremism and corruption, brought him back to this project.
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After a few years of blogging on other sites, Solomon launched ‘Rise of the Center’ – the precursor to Uniters.org, leading to a number of interviews and freelance opportunities, most notably covering the 2012 election cycle on WNYC.org – the website for the largest NPR station in the country, in New York City – and reported from the floor of the 2012 Democratic & Republican National Conventions. After a hiatus from politics, the horrific circus of the 2016 election, and more generally increasing extremism and corruption, brought him back to this project.
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8 thoughts on “Corruption at the Root of Need for Earmark Ban”

  1. I don’t question that ending earmarks could have beneficial effects. Particularly, it could end the practice of purchasing votes in order to pass big unwieldy expensive bills filled with lots of unrelated provisions.
    But I think it’s a cynical oversimplification to presume that earmarks are about almost nothing except corruption.
    And I don’t find the defenses of earmarks entirely implausible. For instance, sometimes, an earmark says something like “department x gets 80 million, and 4 million shall be spent for project y… .”
     
    Everyone calls that pork. Fine. But if you take out “4 million shall be spent for project y,” you probably end up with “department x gets 80 million.” Not “department x gets $76 million.” In other words, funding for pet projects moves out of the hands of congressmen and moves into the hands of unelected officials. And the President, who conceivably gains new source of spoils to hand out.
     
    So money could conceivably get handed out in a more corrupt and more uneven fashion. If ending earmarks really does reduce overall spending, I’m for it. But I’m agnostic right now on how it will actually pan out in practice. And I think the argument that ending earmarks increases executive power is sound.

    1. You really should better familiarize yourself with the straw man logical fallacy… I didn’t say anything near “earmarks are about almost nothing except corruption”.

      And you conveniently skipped over the part where I totally debunked this transfer of power garbage. If congress wants money to go to a specific program, used in a specific way, all they have to do is say so in the bill. The executive branch can only work within the rules congress sets. If there is an avenue of corruption where a vaguely worded spending line in a bill can be twisted and lobbyists can get to those that are tasked with executing that spending order by congress, that avenue should be closed too.

  2. Totally debunked. Yes. And in only a couple hundred words. I disagree.
    “If congress wants money to go to a specific program, used in a specific way, all they have to do is say so in the bill. ”
    Please explain why this isn’t an earmark by another name? It sounds to me like you want to eliminate earmarks with a new process which essentially duplicates earmarks.
     
    I am happy to acknowledge that I might be missing something here. What’s the substantive difference you see? In the end, congresscritters still extract their pound of pork as part of a process of pushing the fatted pig across the goal line.

  3. “If congress wants money to go to a specific program, used in a specific way, all they have to do is say so in the bill. ”

    “Please explain why this isn’t an earmark by another name? It sounds to me like you want to eliminate earmarks with a new process which essentially duplicates earmarks.”

    Look man, you’ve been doing this this several times a day recently, and I’m not playing this stupid game with you any more. You don’t have to agree with me that it is better, but I already said how it is different.

    Have you seriously never looked at the difference in earmarking and the regular legislative process?!? I find that hard to believe… but if that is the case, you really should educate yourself.

    1. I believe that the basic issue here is one of transparency. Congress frequently specifies in detail how it wants the money it appropriates to be spent, and I doubt anyone has a problem with that. But specifics can be spirited in under cover of darkness, in a way that no one will even notice until after the fact — say, in a must-pass bill such as a continuing resolution appropriation to keep the government from grinding to a halt. Those may or not be bad projects, but the secrecy and duplicity flunks the “smell test”, and those are the earmarks that we can and should try to minimize.

      In the proper, above-board process, Congress will often authorize and appropriate funds for an item that the executive branch decided not to budget for — a kind of earmark sometimes called a “congressional add”. It isn’t always, or even usually, a bad item in itself, just one that didn’t make the fiercely-competitive cut for a place in the President’s budget. But a congressman, or a congressional committee, that has different priorities than the administration has no problem with putting it in the bill, usually (again, not always) separating out, or “earmarking”, a portion of a larger appropriation, specifically directing it to be spent on that item. It follows that doing away with such an earmark won’t lower the total size of the appropriation. Occasionally, though, Congress mandates new funds to be appropriated for the added item; do away with that earmark and the total budget would end up smaller. It should be clear that branding all earmarks as budget-busters is more over-simplified ideological dogma than fact.

      My point is that this process is normally open and transparent — as transparent as anything that Congress ever does; a lay person may have to go to great lengths to follow it all in detail — and there’s nothing particularly wrong with it. What the government ends up funding and executing is the result of a dialog between the executive and legislative branches (with the judicial branch occasionally acting as umpire!), and some excellent initiatives would never exist without Congress having added them when the administration simply had other priorities. It works, and it achieves, on balance, what the people want and need.

  4. Thanks for making an honest effort, Peter. I am still not quite clear on what distinguishes an “earmark” (bad) from “the normal legislative process.” (good)
     
    You seem to be suggesting that it’s a matter of the method and timing by which specific project spending is put into the bill. What you said was illustrative, so thanks again. What I still don’t see is a clear and conclusive method for separating such spending into the two distinct categories .Is the distinction you see mostly a matter of congressionally-approved spending that circumvents executive input.
     
    Solomon, you seem to think that the distinctions are quite obvious but I am too dumb to see. I re-read this entire thread several times, and I was unable to find any point where you have made clear this difference, as you contend. Doing some research of my own, I have discovered that in fact the term “earmark” lacks a broad consensus definition. So, it’s apparently not so surprising that I am unclear on the matter.
     
    I am at a loss as to why you keep making vague and negative accusations about my character and mental ability. I have come to this website in earnest and asked honest questions that I felt deserved answering. My impression is that you’ve behaved like a jerk.
     
     

    1. Several times you’ve asked me questions that were already answered. In this case, I flatly don’t believe you that you can’t see the difference between my description of an earmark and the regular legislative process. You’re not stupid, I’ve been reading your blog for a while. You just don’t want to see it, or you’re screwing with me for some odd reason.

      As I’ve said several times, I don’t care if you disagree, but these games are tired. You’re making a fairly simple issue terribly complicated for some reason. I’m not using obscure definitions, I’m using the terms as commonly used.

  5. I think Mr. Shaw has it about right. An earmark as I understand it is something slipped in, often in the middle of the night and/or by “unknown” legislators or their aides. Having an a spending provision with directions about how or where the money is to be spent go through the normal process, may be viewed in effect as an earmark (a “congressional add”?), but it ostensibly gets more scrutiny or visibility in the legislative process.

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