Earmarks for everyone!

Worried about the detrimental effect that pork-barrel earmarks are having on the nation’s budget process?

Never fear. President Barack Obama pledged Wednesday to work with Congress to “reform” the way earmarks are added to appropriations bill.

Right after he signs a $410 billion omnibus budget bill that includes more than 8,000 earmarks totaling over $7.7 billion.

As we’ve stressed before, this is a bipartisan problem. According to one count, 40 percent of the earmarks in the omnibus bill were added by Republicans. One reason that Republicans lost control of Congress was their free-spending ways and their abundant use of earmarks for pet projects. But Democrats have demonstrated no more inclination than Republicans to eliminate them.

Earmarks are added into appropriations bills by individual members, without debate and usually after a bill has already been through a committee hearing. They provide members of Congress with a way to lard up legislation with funding for pet projects in their home districts or to reward political supporters.

Obama acknowledged Wednesday that can occur. But he also said many earmarks serve a legitimate public purpose. He said he didn’t want to eliminate earmarks, just reform the system to prevent wasteful earmarks or those that serve little public process.

But if the spending in question serves a legitimate public purpose, why don’t lawmakers submit their projects up front so they can be included in the original appropriations bill? Or why not offer them as amendments during committee hearings, where they can be fully debated?

Earmark funding has exploded in recent years precisely because lawmakers don’t want their favored projects to undergo such public scrutiny.  Any reform must overcome that fact.


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