Earmarks, a slightly different look

For decade’s it was a standard negotiating tool to offer a representative in Congress support of a project in his/her state or district in exchange for a his/her vote to support a political party or administrations particular program. This process was called “earmarking,” the procedural process of marking a bill, amendments, etc. was called earmarks because the edge of the document was marked for “special consideration.”

In 2007 after decades of abuse by representatives in Congress and administrations, both Democrat and Republican, Congress decided to legally eliminate earmarks. It seemed logical that states building bridges to nowhere to acquire federal funds to increase employment in a state or district was a clear waste of money and especially offensive when it was in exchange for a vote that might have been used to support reasonable legislation in other areas. But as my Damon Runyon friend from New York, Danny would say, not so fast!

With the waver of earmarks the inclination to cooperate between the political parties in congress was virtually wiped out. Members of congress are inclined to vote party politics and the polarization that results is like two opposing magnets preventing political organizations from working together. This polarization results in congressional gridlock and it seriously curtails any legal progress on major issues by the house and senate.

This week there was a suggestion that earmarks be reintroduced to the congressional process. The premise is that the representatives and senators with the promise of getting some of the “federal pork” in their respective state or district in exchange for the vote needed by his/her party or in some cases administrations will be a “fair exchange.” The gridlock can’t go on if we expect effective government based on our congressional representatives “doing the right thing.” Why not admit that it is reasonable and realistic to expect congressional representatives to want something for the constitutes in exchange for their vote on specific legislation.
Let’s face it overcoming the congressional gridlock we are currently in with earmarks is cheaper than months and years of no decision with costly delays and little or no results making “kicking the can down the road” the rule of governing in this great country.

And as long as we are addressing “righteous ideas” that may not be practical in the sense of governing allow me to address term limits. This seems like a good idea after all we liked the idea of an elected representative not gathering power over decades and having unfair leverage on legislative matters. What we have seen at least in the case of individual states is that when elected representatives are termed out of office they most likely pursue a job in lobbying. As a lobbyist, they are familiar with the governmental procedures that make the process work. They know where “the bodies are buried” or more importantly the civil service staff that used to report to them knows exact procedures, laws and procedures needed to get laws passed or amendments approved. In practice, it turns out that the “winners” in the term limit program is the civil servants who for all practical purposes runs the governing process. Since they can’t for all practical purposes be fired they are worse than elected officials even when those elected representatives have limited knowledge and sometimes poor judgement on governing issues. Like earmarks be careful what you wish for because you may get it and I can think of nothing worse than giving the decision-making process to civil servants who can and do demand “romancing” them as they make decisions that can affect businesses and voters alike. I say this from practical experience.

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