President Barack Obama proposed reforms to the Congressional earmarking process on Wednesday:
• Members’ earmark requests should be posted on their Web sites.
• There should be public hearings on earmark requests “where members will have to justify their expense to the taxpayer.”
• Any earmark for a for-profit company would have to be competitively bid.
The reforms are intended to deflect criticism after Obama signed the $410 billion 2009 omnibus spending bill, which included about $7.7 billion in earmarks.
I have no time for the Republican Party’s blatant hypocrisy on what is really a “phantom problem”. Republican members of Congress secure plenty of earmarks for their own states even as they posture against “pork.” They don’t seem to care about sweetheart deals and no-bid contracts awarded by executive agencies, which cost taxpayers much more than all earmarks combined.
Beltway journalists have been following the Republican script, focusing way too much on earmarks, even though they are “inconsequential”:
Not only do they represent less than one percent of the federal budget, eliminating them wouldn’t even reduce federal spending by even that tiny amount, or any amount at all, since earmarks by definition simply tag the spending in an already established pot of money, such as the Community Development Block Grant. The only question is whether decisions about funding individual projects should be made by Congress — through earmarks — or by a supposedly apolitical administrative process.
Furthermore, Jonathan Singer points out, earmarks simply don’t register when Americans are asked an open-ended question about their concerns.
I’m all for the reforms Obama announced yesterday, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that they will make a dent in government spending.
Although I think concerns about earmarks are exaggerated, I do want to examine the origin of Senator Tom Harkin’s $1.8 million earmark for studying odors from large hog confinements (CAFOs) in Iowa. It has become the poster child for Republican taunts about useless earmarks, prompting Harkin to defend himself (see here and here).
Follow me after the jump for more on why the federal government is funding this study. The earmark has its roots in unfortunate decisions that Iowa Democratic leaders made last year–with the enthusiastic support of statehouse Republicans and corporate ag groups.