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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Only Legitimate Earmark Reform Is To End the Practice

I have a friend that loves to drink. I don't know that he is technically an alcoholic but he certainly has had more than his fair share of run ins with too much drinking. My friend has tried all sorts of different techniquest to "control" his drinking. He would set up schedules. For instance, he would only drink one drink an hour in an evening. He had all sorts of gimmicks and invariably he would eventually break his rules and have an evening in which he was out of control. What he always refused to admit to himself is that the only control was to simply quit drinking outright.

I thought of my friend this morning as President Obama announced his plans to "control" earmarks. First, he went ahead and signed a bill with nearly 9000 earmarks only to announce "significant" earmark reform going forward. President Obama sounded like someone on New Year's who smoked like a chimney claiming that their New Year's resolution was to quit smoking. If he was serious about earmark reform, he would have stood up and vetoed the bill.

After trying to justify his capitulation by claiming that this was "last year's business", Among the new directives includes things like 1) each legislator listing each of their earmarks on their website as soon as they request it 2)more scrutiny of earmarks that go to private companies and 3) a fair and orderly bidding process for all earmarks. Beyond this, President Obama demanded philosophical changes to earmarks. Earmarks are never to be used for influence, quid pro quo, or in any way that corrupts the process.

While these rules make the process better, the reality is that all of these new rules amount to something similar to my friend creating rules for his drinking. For instance, there are about 9000 earmarks in this omnibus spending bill. Even if each was placed on each legislator's web site, there's no way for the public to truly examine them one by one.

The problem with earmarks is that they subvert the process. A spending project should go through whatever committee it relates to. This way we would have hearings. The Congress could examine the spending item and there is time for the media and the public to see it and examine it. Instead, any bill, on any subject, could have inserted into it frivilous and totally irrelevant spending. Even if that spending is inserted in the open, the process has already been corrupted. It's especially corrupted when the items number in the thousands.

Finally, those on the appropriations committee are those with most power to appropriate earmarks. Earmarks are a natural tool of corruption. Any legislator can go to any legislator on the apppropriations committee to ask to insert an earmark. You can bet that such a request is NOT without something in return. By nature, that is CORRUPT. Even if that corruption is not illegal, it is still corrupt.

As such, the only true earmark reform is to end the practice altogether.

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