Ever since the 2006 Midterm Elections, news people have had a field day talking about, and complaining about, earmarks. Well, really this has been happening ever since Jack Abramoff. Okay, it’s been going on since the now famous Bridge to Nowhere. Actually, complaints about pork barrel spending have been occurring for as long as I can remember.
Anderson Cooper, a journalist and news personality who I have loved and watched ever since the Christmas Tsunami 0f 2004, has been particularly critical of earmarks since the 2006 elections. He often criticizes Congress, especially Democrats since he claims Democrats promised to rein in, possibly even end, the earmark practice. Actually, Democrats promised to make the process visible and accountable. Which they have done. Now, each earmark must list its sponsor, purpose and cost. I will be the first to say the process isn’t going as smoothly as it should. There have been problems with accountability, as highlighted by a report done by CNN and Anderson Cooper where interns called the members of the House of Representatives asking for a list of earmarks. Many Representatives refused the request.
And so, after Abramoff and the Bridge to Nowhere, the climate toward earmarks in Congress has turned ugly. Anyone with earmarks is labeled a pork spender. Anyone who supports earmarks is a pork spender. And it has gone so far that the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has tried to rename the process as “legislatively directed spending.”
But not all earmarks are bad. Here is one example of the anti-earmark culture gone wrong:
I don’t know all of the particulars regarding this case. I only know what is being reported, but this one-winged Cultural Center seems to have been a solid solution to the poverty problem on Native American reservations. The project, instead, is abandoned and the half finished center rises above the landscape as yet one more example of the U.S. government breaking promises with Native Americans. Why? Because “earmarks” is a word with terrible connotations now.
Yes, $200 million dollars for a bridge that leads, literally, to nowhere is a terrible waste of taxpayer money. But that doesn’t mean all bridge projects are bad and that federal funds shouldn’t go to such projects. Some bridges need to be built. And some bridges need to be rebuilt, as we saw last August when the I-35W Bridge collapsed in Minneapolis.
It may seem shady for a member of Congress to extend an airport runway, one which maybe isn’t even used very often, in his or her district. And it may indeed be shady. And it may also entice business people to fly their private jets to that airport. And those business people might invest in or build a business in that district. And that business might employee who knows how many people. Which will lead to how much raised tax revenue? And a cut in how much unemployment spending? And welfare spending? And on and on and on.
I think the whole process needs some serious reform. And maybe Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense is right to say, “Live by the earmark, die by the earmark.” But ending all earmarks, deciding all earmarks are proof of dirty, corrupt politicians sleeping with big business isn’t going to help anything. And it isn’t accurate, either. Nor will it likely end corrupt spending.
No, the anti-earmark culture will likely just lead to a bunch of one-winged eagles lying across the American landscape.