I just listened to a podcast of the PBS show Bill Moyers’ Journal on government earmarks. And I’m outraged. For those unfamiliar with the term, they are essentially add-ons to legislation for individuals, organizations, or other projects that (more often than not) have absolutely nothing to do with the bill being passed. “Why do these even exist?” you ask. Well, the best way to put it is: they grease the gears of self-serving legislators.
Let’s say a bill is being passed that pertains to subsidies to corn growers to produce ethanol (a cluster-frak of crony-ness by itself). It makes plenty of sense for a representative from, say, Iowa to support the bill, as many of her/his constituents would benefit monetarily from the subsidy (and ergo be more likely to vote for the representative’s re-election).
But what if you’re a representative from Alaska. What good would supporting a corn subsidy bill do for you (given that there isn’t much corn being grown in Alaska)? Well, if you can slip an earmark for a couple million dollars for a new civic center for your home district into the main bill, then you’d gladly support the bill. And so would any legislator if they were given the opportunity to include their own earmark.
It’s called pork. Pork is excess added to a bill that is originally intended to pass a certain measure or provide a set amount of funding. But when you start adding in a bunch of earmarks for other purposes completely unrelated to the bill (added to gather support from otherwise disinterested legislators), the expense of the original bill ballons into something much larger.
I disagree with a lot of libertarian thought. But here’s one area where I share the vehemence towards the bloated beaurocratic process of pork barrel politics. In listening to some of the attrocious spending additions due to earmarks, it’s hard to have any faith in a federal (or state) legislature that doesn’t go over-budget for these reasons.
Now, some might argue the realpolitik position that it’s just the way politics is run. Really? Ok, I understand that back-room deals aren’t going to be erradicated anytime soon, but the excess is just senseless. So many earmarks aren’t for a civic center or other widely-beneficial expediture. Often, they are directed to companies, organizations, or even individuals. And as long as the recipient hadn’t bribed the legislator into giving the earmarks, it’s completely legal. And also completely off the radar to a legislator’s constituents.
Do you know how many earmarks your legislator has passed while in office? Do you know to whom those earmarks went? And how much of YOUR tax dollars were used to fund that earmark? I know I would have to answer “no” to all three. And it really peeves me off. Not so much that it is happening (which I’m also upset about), but that there is hardly any way for the general public to even know what is going on. Let’s hope it changes . . .
For more information, check out the Bill Moyers’ Journal page for the episode on earmarks. It’s well worth watching/listening to, because it’s your tax dollars.
Until next time, bonnes pensées.