Why Earmarks Matter
At Taxpayers for Common Sense, we believe that the impact of earmarks is greater than the billions of dollars they cost the federal treasury. With a federal budget close to $3 trillion, we know that earmarks are not the only source of government waste. But the earmarking process is a breakdown in democratic decision-making in the Congress. We are putting the unprecedented amount of power to direct billions of dollars of projects in the hands of very small group of legislators and lobbyists. The all-consuming chase for earmarks distracts Congress and takes time away from important policy debates.
This year alone, there were more than 30,000 requests for earmarks in the House of Representatives – all of which had to be reviewed by staff on the Appropriations Committee. That’s a tremendous amount of effort and time to bring $100,000 for a theater renovation or $150,000 for Robotics Training Equipment at a local community college to a local congressional district. Don’t get me wrong, these and other projects may deserve federal support, but most of us don’t get a chance to ask why these projects are better than others or why they should be funded first before other projects. The lack of a competitive or a meritorious process means that projects may be ignored in favor of those backed by the politically powerful.
When so much time and resources spent deciding which project gets $100,000 or $1 million, we divert the Congress’ attention from the major policy debates that should be guiding congressional debate. How do we address the growing federal budget deficit? How can we ensure excellence and accountability in defense spending? Are we spending more money to have private contractors do the work we used to complete with government workers?
But, possibly the worst thing about earmarks is that they have become the currency of corruption. Also, this decade of rapid growth of earmarks coincided with one of the most lax periods of Congressional oversight of the federal government. This lax scrutiny makes earmarks ripe for abuse.
What can you do to help reign in earmarking? Demand better information, and more accountability from your elected officials. An informed constituent is a powerful force. Work with Taxpayers for Common Sense to bring earmarks out of the shadows of the Congress and into the public light. TCS has been tracking all that information and pulling it together into searchable databases available to the public on our Web site. See what your member of Congress is up to.
Also, ask your lawmaker to disclose all of the earmark requests they are making. We are only able to track the successful requests, but there are tens of thousands of requests that are unknown. If a member of Congress is willing to sign on the dotted line asking for federal funding, the public should be able to know that.
Finally, after reviewing all the information, tell them what you think. And tell us what you think, too.
When one of his earmarks was challenged recently, Rep. Don Young (R-AK) complained that people were trying to take “my money.” That’s how earmarks have twisted things in Washington. It’s our money, it’s our government. Work with Taxpayers for Common Sense to make the budget more transparent and more accountable to taxpayers.FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.