[The imfamous Bridge to Nowhere, artist's rendering courtesy of Anchorage Daily News]
With news that apparant Congressman-to-be Jason Chaffetz is against all earmarks, I wanted to point out that earmarks in and of themselves are not bad, only the Congress critters that exploit them are (I am looking at you, Alaska delegation).
An after-school learning program in West Valley City, transportation projects in Provo and a nursing program at Utah Valley University are all recipients of federal earmarks that Jason Chaffetz says should have never been funded.I suppose if one is going to crusade against earmark abuse and for earmark reform, one has to forego earmarks in one's own district. Yet I don't think kids in West Valley should have to suffer for this cause.
The earmarks are among $9.4 million U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, helped secure for local projects that were slipped into appropriations bills through an earmark process that's frequently criticized as pork barrel spending.
Chaffetz defeated Cannon in a June Republican primary and says he doesn't care if the money would benefit his district or the state — he wants no part of earmarks.
"Until there's reform, I will not ask for them. They're a cancer within the system, and I want to extract them," Chaffetz said by telephone from Washington, D.C.
Those earmarks are for fine projects, Chaffetz said, but they shouldn't circumvent the executive branch's competitive-based selection process.This of course assumes that those in the executive branch in charge of the selection process don't make backroom deals or play favorativism with requests from members of Congress from their political party. And given this Administration's illegally partisan hiring and promotion practices at the DOJ, the conviction of a guy in charge of purchasing policy for the entire government for obstruction of justice and lying to protect his Abramoff-connected buddies (the conviction was overturned on proceedural grounds a month ago), I wouldn't place as much confidence in the executive branch to do the right thing as Chaffetz does.
"I think there are ways to get appropriations done for worthwhile projects. It shouldn't be done through the cloak of darkness," he said.
Earmarks can be a sign of a members power and ability to horse trade, but they can also be a sign of projects that need to be funded at a certain level lest kids in West Valley decide to join gangs rather than shoot pool at an after-school center, for instance. And let's remember this chart as well, and also remember who was in charge of Congress from 1994 until 2006.
(Graphic by the Washington Post, based on Congressional Research Service data)
The first step to curbing Congress' addiction is not to cut off cold turkey, but to reign in abuses and have the people kick out the biggest abusers. If polls are to be believed, Rep. Don Young and Sen. Ted Stevens (Rs-AK)--two of the biggest offenders--will not be a part of the 111th Congress. As long as Congressman/woman's names are attached to their earmarks, and they aren't jammed into phone-book-sized bills at the last minute, we have a good shot at stopping the insanity.