Sunday, June 01, 2008

Earmarks: Corruption Continues

"Remember those Congressional pledges of earmark reform? Democrats are hoping you don't, as they try to pull a fast one and evade President Bush's pledge to block these special-interest spending projects slipped into legislation without scrutiny.

The battle is over the $601 billion defense authorization bill, which the House passed last week, 384-23. Earmarks are supposed to be included in the text of legislation. Instead, the Members have 'airdropped,' in Beltway parlance, a huge number of them into the conference report that accompanies the bill. And, to ensure that the money is spent on these dark-of-night additions, the Members have included language insisting that federal agencies do so.

This is a blatant attempt to override Mr. Bush's executive order earlier this year on earmarks. That order took direct aim at 'airdropped' earmarks on grounds that they lack the force of law. If Members think their projects are defensible, then put them into actual legislation and vote on them. But because this can be politically embarrassing – think 'bridge to nowhere' – Members prefer to slip their pork into the conference reports that offer instructions on implementation. These reports are written by staff members, aren't debated or voted on by Members, and aren't signed by the President."
The corruption is clear, i.e., money is being spent by individual members of Congress and the entire Congress is participating in hiding these expenditures. Congress, not individual members of Congress, has the constitutional power to make appropriations. Whether the Democrat party or the Republican party controls Congress, and even after an election which emphasized the corruption of earmarks as well as promises to end the practice, the corruption continues. But, perhaps the continuing corruption is worse now, because this Congress seems to have made even greater efforts to hide the earmarks from public view.

Why make promises to reform but then make greater efforts to hide the practice of earmarks? Probably because members of Congress assume, as public choice theory tends to assume, that voters are rationally ignorant. It seems that members of Congress think they can spend tax money on friends, political benefactors, family, and even themselves because voters rationally choose to remain largely ignorant about the politicians they elect.

I'm afraid there is little that can be done unless there is a return to the conceptual understanding of government as a limited government that is constitutionally constrained by specifically enumerated powers.

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