Despite a cacophony of criticism, from scholars and the public alike, congressional earmarks and pork-barrel spending remain a popular method for members of Congress to endear themselves to local voters at the expense of more pressing budgetary priorities. The time has come for a restoration of the checks and balances envisioned by America’s Founding Fathers.
More specifically, the time has come for a serious and comprehensive check to congressional power, in the form of a substantial line-item veto power to be granted to the president and the criminalization of earmarks, in order to eliminate the types of wasteful spending so often associated with earmarks. This essay will define the underlying substance of congressional earmarks, present a representative type of earmark which stirred public outrage in Louisiana, and propose two solutions.
As an initial matter, rather than engaging in diplomatic niceties, one set of scholars has stated rather simply that “pork-barreling is a corruption of the political process. ” (Walker, Rosenzweig, and Martin, 1993). This is hardly a new or novel characterization. It is a corruption of the political process because, in effect, members of Congress are exchanging public dollars for political support in their local districts or home states.
Such projects have ranged from unnecessary public works programs to pig waste management systems to the promotion of religious causes. Money that might otherwise be used to shore up Social Security or other necessary public services is instead being diverted to purchase votes and to reward political supporters. In short, earmarks operate as something very akin to a delayed bribe in which the bribe is paid with our American tax dollars.
Recently, in Louisiana, public outrage embarrassed Senator David Vitter and forced him to rescind a particularly blatant earmark for his home state. What he had originally characterized as a $100,000 grant to improve science education turned out, in fact, to be a $100,000 grant to a private religious organization which wanted to promote its religious views rather than science. Being a Republican, and indebted to his religious supporters for his election victory, the proposed earmark turned out to be nothing more than a thank you gift using taxpayer dollars.
By lying, he also skirted certain legal restrictions pertaining to the separation of church and state; in the instant case, Senator Vitter was providing an earmark to a religious organization that intended to use public money to promote Creationism. The frightening aspect was that it was highly unusual that Senator Vitter had been caught lying about the purpose of the earmark: “It was a rare, but telling, moment when U. S. Sen. David Vitter took to the Senate floor Oct.
17 to withdraw an earmark of federal money for a pet project in his home state. ” (Leaming, 2007). For every Senator Vitter, the reports implied, hundreds of other earmarks went unchallenged, unreported, and unnoticed. Somewhat disingenuously, Congress has defended its earmarks as being a part of its legitimate constitutional power. Any attempt to restrict its role as controller of the American purse strings is attacked as an infringement of its constitutional power.
Congress is not, however, entitled to spend the purse in ways which violate other constitutional restrictions, such as in Senator Vitter’s case, nor are they entitled to abuse their position of constitutional trust. A solution is overdue. One proposed solution to this underhanded form of political bribery has been “giving presidents the line-item veto, precisely so they could strike out such projects. ” (Pitney Jr. 3). Another possible solution is the defining of earmarks as a form of criminal bribery or unethical behavior.
Because the temptation has proven too great for members of Congress, the time has come to regulate earmarks much more seriously. In the final analysis, because American tax dollars should be used for pressing concerns such as Social Security, the time has come to end the earmark process. This can easily be done through a line-item veto or the criminalization of earmarks. States can fund local projects. Works Cited Leaming, Jeremy. “Earmark Erased: After AU Protest, Louisiana Senator Backs off Congressional Funding for Religious Right Group’s Creationism Project.
” Church & State Dec. 2007: 8+. Questia. 11 Apr. 2009 <http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=5024869996>. Pitney Jr. , John J. “The Coming Ascent of Congress. ” Policy Review (2000): 3. Questia. 11 Apr. 2009 <http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=5001799190>. Walker, Robert S. , Robert Rosenzweig, and Paul C. Martin. “Trim the Pork. ” Issues in Science and Technology Summer 1993: 12+. Questia. 11 Apr. 2009 <http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=5001670913>.