The end of earmarks may have been a mistake.


This website has been dedicated to low tax, small government. I believe that when politicians are given money they spend it and the thought of “paying down the national debt” never occurs to them. However, I also believe we are witnessing unprecedented paralysis in Washington. That may be equally bad for the nation.

I was as opposed to earmarks as any fiscal hawk and applauded their “end.” However, let me ask you. Did you notice how the deficit went down dramatically following the moratorium on earmarks in 2010? No? Neither did I. Last year federal tax revenue hit an all time high. Did you see the money being used to pay down the national debt? No? Neither did I.

I believe that President Trump is correct. The tax cuts will actually produce more tax revenue within a short time frame. Do you believe that new money will be used to pay down the debt? Reality and history tell us what will happen when the government gets more money. THEY SPEND IT!

Did you ever hear of Williston. ND? Well, it is a classic case of what happens when government coffers balloon with more dollars. You really should read the John Tamny article on this little “boom town.”

With those preliminary observations let us return to earmarks. I think it was a mistake to take earmarks out of the political equation for “getting things done” in Washington. Do you really think that “earmarks” in some form or other won’t come back because American citizens believe they are wasteful? Yes, they are nothing more than bribes. Yes, they often waste tax dollars. So be it!

[Source: The case for restoring earmarks, by James T. Walsh, Melanie Sloan, Rich Gold and Craig Holman]

Lawmakers are debating whether to end the ban. Earmarks were the engine of political “compromise.” There is one way and one way only to get lawmakers to “go against their ‘principles.'” Yep! You guessed it. They can be BRIBED! If we want the Congress to be “bipartisan” we need to count on the avarice of its members.

The editorial authors have some good ideas about allowing, but reforming earmarks. I offer these for your consideration.

These reforms are [from the Walsh, et.al. article]:

  • Members of Congress should not direct earmarks to those who have contributed to their congressional campaigns. After a number of earmarking scandals, this represents the best way to break the link — whether real or perceived — between campaign contributions and legislative action.
  • Congressional staff should be barred from participating in fundraising activities. Their attendance at fundraisers gives the appearance that the legislative process is for sale. Further, many of these hard-working individuals probably would prefer not to have to attend these evening and early-morning functions but cannot easily refuse.
  • Congress should create a downloadable database of all earmarks on a public website. Finding an earmark should be as easy as finding a book online.
  • The Government Accountability Office should regularly and randomly audit projects to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.
  • Members of Congress should take responsibility for their earmarks by certifying that the recipients are qualified to perform the work. A lawmaker should have to stand by any earmark he or she believes is a worthwhile expenditure of public money.

These authors point out (as I have done above) that spending goes on unabated, but elected leaders have lost the ability to make spending decisions to bureaucrats and political appointees. Instead of increasing transparency it has reduced it. Instead of increasing accountability it has reduced it.

Today, agencies dole out grants – grants that lack objective criteria, and no one can challenge the selection of projects.

I am certainly not advocating a return to unaccountable earmarking (“Bridge to Nowhere“). But, as a physician I have lived my professional life under the rubric “first do no harm.” I believe that ending earmarks was a more harm than good decision.

Roy Filly

 

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About Roy Filly

Please read my first blog in which I describe myself and my goals.
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