Friday, August 3, 2007

Earmarks ... Congress Knows Best

Suppose you received the following memo with your next paycheck.

Memo: to All Employees
From: Management

Effective immediately, each payday deductions will Automatically be made and directly paid to specific companies for your benefit to cover a portion of your budget expenses. Management has preselected the companies you will use for specific services we all need.

After all, your employer is in a better position to know the best way to allocate your money to cover your budget expenses. So starting now, the company informs you, every paycheck will have $25 sent directly to Blockbuster for your movie rentals, $53 will be sent to Dr. Jones because he is now your primary care physician, $37 will go to Best Lumber Center for home improvement and $250 will be sent to Kroger for food expenses. You are further told that your money these companies receive is not refundable and that you must use the named company for your budgetary expenses. If you wish to shop elsewhere, you may, but only with "other" dollars. No allocated money can be used, except at the named stores.

Reaction - Outrage and a general expression of the attitude: "They can't do that, it's my money." As a taxpaying citizen, the money Congress approves for various spending bills is also your money. And unless we stop Earmarks, they are doing that with your money. Earmarks are not transparent. Earmarks are added to most bills by members of Congress to direct money to their Home Districts and in effect are mandating how a portion of each spending appropriation will be spent. The money cannot be used for any other activity, whether it's needed or not, just like your above paycheck example. Earmarks is Congress deciding how to spend our money rather than the entity for whom the money was appropriated.

For examples read this article Murtha nabs $150M pork.
The House is expected to take up the $459.6 billion defense appropriations bill Friday. It contains 1,337 earmarks, costing $3.07 billion, which is less than half the number and value of earmarks in last year’s bill. [emphasis mine]
Earmarks are hard to track because there is no Congressional Database listing who requested the money or who the beneficiary of our money is. The secrecy of the Earmark Process is intentional. Members of Congress do not want us to know.
Keith Ashdown of TCS [Taxpayers for Common Sense] said, however, that the sum is derived from only the earmarks that the panel disclosed at the back of the bill’s report. He expects to find undisclosed projects as well.


Even though the panel disclosed the project name, the requesting member, and the budget line in which the project was requested, the bill and its earmarks are not a model of transparency. The panel did not disclose either the amount requested or the companies that would benefit. TCS paired the disclosed requests in the committee report with the dollar amounts for the projects published in the bill.
If the projects which these Earmarks fund are necessary, why not make them a part of the language of the bill, open to discussion and the sunlight of a chamber vote? Earmarks are a dishonest way for members of Congress to finance their re-election campaigns. There is almost always a connection between the Earmark and the requesting member of Congress. Usually the principal(s) or beneficiaries of the Earmarks make sizable contributions to the congressman's re-election campaign fund.

Earmarks are attached to various spending bills by almost all members of Congress. Defense Spending Bills, Agricultural Spending Bills, Highway Appropriations etc. and the Earmarks do not have to relate measure under consideration. Remember the bill being considered here is for 2008 Military Spending. Do these Earmarks qualify as Military?
According to TCS, candidates for the non-defense earmark category include the Christian Sarkine Autism Treatment Center, which received $2.5 million from Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), the Center for Genetic Origins of Cancer at the University of Michigan, which got $3 million from Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), and $1.5 million for an eponymous project at the National Bureau for Asian Research in Seattle, sponsored by Rep. Dicks.
From the title of the article it is not hard to guess who benefited most. John Murtha (D-PA), who's Earmarks had the highest monetary value, and Bill Young (R-FL) who had the most Earmarks.
Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations defense panel, has secured the most earmarked dollars in the 2008 military spending bill, followed closely by the panel’s ranking member Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.).

Even though Young secured 52 earmarks, worth $117.2 million — and co-sponsored at least $27 million worth of others — Murtha’s 48 earmarks amount to a total of $150.5 million, according to a database compiled by the watchdog organization Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS).

Thanks to Congress, you just got the memo.

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