Straightforward Earmarks

Instead of enduring the annual grandstanding, hyper-ventilating and the sanctimonious hypocrisy from both political parties, we must find another way to address controversial Congressional “earmarks.” Members of both parties happily insert many specific spending provisions in different pieces of legislation covering various federal departments, agencies and programs. In the aggregate, they account for about 1% of the total federal budget. But often they needlessly dominate up to 50% of the political, media and public discussions.

History shows that Congressional earmarks have always been around but they have grown considerably during the past 20 years. Most insidious, some earmarks are hidden within legislation dealing with unrelated proposes. Finally, earmarks are a sad reminder that Congress too-often micro-manages much of the federal government with highly-specific earmarks, laws and regulations that impair the Executive branch’s reasonable need for flexibility in meeting the changing population needs and new economic conditions.

It is unlikely that most U.S. Senators and Representatives of both parties will readily relinquish their power to “bring back the pork” to their constituents, and to reward some big political contributors. Instead we must simply accept them as an adolescent must accept pimples. But we should be open and honest about their existence and their collective usefulness in meeting political realities.

Instead of forcing legislators to hide earmarks inside their various legislative efforts, let’s just agree to put them all into one annual bill called “Special Spending.” The bill’s total would equal about 1% of total federal spending for each fiscal year and would be passed only after all other budgetary legislation has been completed.

All Congressional members would be free to bargain, cajole, trade, and negotiate the types and amounts of all their specific projects in this one piece of legislation. The Press and American public would finally find earmarks all in one place and eventually could reward or punish their legislators in the next elections. Each “earmark” would also have to list all its Congressional sponsors in order to be inserted in the total bill.

By demanding consolidation of “earmarks” in one transparent piece of legislation, the rest of the federal budget could be more straight-forward. The vast majority of spending bills should be designed to cover lump sum authorizations for the proper administration of our large federal government by the Executive Branch. This procedural change might also limit Congressional meddling and micro-management of too many government programs. Earmarks that end up in legislation outside the Special Spending Bill could be stricken by the President using a new limited line-item veto power.

This suggestion might not end the earmark debate completely, but it should result in limiting it to the same amount of political, media and public attention that its true size justifies.

3/16/09 by Marc Pascal in Phoenix, AZ.

Author: MARC PASCAL

Marc Pascal is an private enterprise counselor and independent arbitrator and mediator in Phoenix, AZ.