Porky's II: The Earmarkers Strike Back
Restoring earmarks in today's Congress would be like opening a bar tab
for a bunch of recovering alcoholics.
By TOM COBURN
Remember the $223 million in federal funds earmarked in 2005 for the "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska? The project stalled but the public outrage it sparked led to a 2011 decision by Congress to end earmarking. Well, it looks like the bridge-to-nowhere crowd is ready to get the scaffolding out again, with lobbyists and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle calling for a return to earmarks and pork-barrel politics.
The powerful House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R., Ky.) has called the ban a "bad idea." Two Republican candidates in Mississippi—Sen. Thad Cochran and House candidate Gene Taylor —are making a return to pork part of their platform. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) recently tried to dismiss the bipartisan ban as a fringe, right-wing idea that has led to gridlock. "It was a tea party reform," Sen. Durbin told reporters in Springfield, Ill., on April 14 after a speech to Teamsters. "They came in and eliminated it and what they did is take the glue out of a federal transportation bill. That was the glue that held everybody together."
Mr. Durbin said he longs for the day "when we get back to the point where members of Congress are sitting down with a common goal—let's pass this bill, let's make sure there is enough money in this bill, let's find the sources of revenue necessary for this bill—you know, it creates a much better and more positive feeling."
The "glue" is pork and the "positive feeling" that Mr. Durbin is referring to is the joy of spending other people's money. For politicians, this sensation is highly addictive. It's why I called earmarks the gateway drug to Washington's spending addiction after fighting my own party's earmarks in the 1990s.
The porkers' core argument—that Congress needs earmarks to pass good bills that wouldn't pass otherwise—is ludicrous. Pork crowds out higher priority needs. On transportation bills, for instance, the Transportation Department's Inspector General told us in 2007 that the presence of earmarks meant members' pet projects were funded ahead of more important projects such as repairing structurally deficient bridges, which now number 63,000 or 10% of our nation's bridges. There is a higher chance the bridge you cross today on your way to work could collapse thanks in part to Congress's legacy of perverse priorities.
Members like to say they know their district's needs best but they are most skilled at putting their political needs first. Plus, we already have an institution dedicated to local projects. It is called local government. Transportation pork, in particular, proved that the good congressman or congresswoman isn't the one who sends money back to the state but the one who keeps money from leaving the state in the first place.
Read the rest of Coburn's op-ed here.
Senator Coburn and Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) are circulating a letter on Capitol Hill in support of the current earmark ban, and asking members of the House and Senate to sign on. You can read that letter here. Congressman James Lankford was one of the first to sign the letter.