Earmarks, everything you wanted to know – or not

4 Nov

An earmark is a Congressional provision that approves funding for a specific project. It frequently also directs how the money is to be spent – sometimes even who is to get it.

Both sides of Congress do earmarks, but usually it’s the Senate.

Earmarks can be found both in legislation (“Hard earmarks” or “Hardmarks”) and in the text of Congressional committee reports ( “Soft earmarks” or “Softmarks”). Hard earmarks are binding and have the effect of law, while soft earmarks do not have the effect of law but by custom are acted on as if they were binding. Typically, a legislator inserts earmarks that direct a specified amount of money to a particular organization or project in his or her home state or district.

When you support the earmark, it’s a good thing. When you don’t, it’s called pork barrel spending and wasteful.
One of the champions of the earmark is Democratic Senator Dan Inouye. He has brought a lot of federal money into Hawaii over the years.

So why are we talking about earmarks?

Because the soon-to-be Republican Speaker of the House is saying they will stop. And, because the President is responding he’s open to a moratorium on them.

As for Senator Dan, he’s saying he still believes congressionally directed spending “is an important part of Congress’ constitutional duty” and earmarks have been vital to the economic infrastructure of Hawaii and the rest of the nation.

Let’s turn to the phrase Pork Barrel.

Typically, “pork” involves funding for government programs whose economic or service benefits are concentrated in a particular area but whose costs are spread among all taxpayers. Public works projects, certain national defense spending projects, and agricultural subsidies are the most common examples.
There are seven criteria by which spending can be classified as “pork”:
Requested by only one chamber of Congress
Not specifically authorized
Not competitively awarded
Not requested by the President
Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding
Not the subject of congressional hearings
Serves only a local or special interest

Here’s a Pork example you might remember: During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, the Gravina Island Bridge (also known as the “Bridge to Nowhere”) in Alaska was called an example of pork barrel spending. The bridge, pushed for by Republican Senator Ted Stevens, was projected to cost $398 million and would connect the island’s 50 residents and the Ketchikan International Airport to Revillagigedo Island and Ketchikan.

When Sarah Palin was the Governor of Alaska she supported it, then changed her mind when it became a political issue. But after canceling the bridge project, Palin’s administration spent more than $25 million to build the Gravina Island Highway, which would have connected with the proposed bridge. According to Alaskan state officials, the road project went ahead because the money came from the federal government, and would otherwise have had to be returned. (There’s a concept) Because no one seems to use this road, it has been called the “road to nowhere”. Can you believe this?

A good example: Senator Inouye brought millions in Hawaii on an earmark to build better housing for military families that were living in very poor homes. Brought in jobs, took care of our military and made everyone happier.

Just because something is an earmark doesn’t make it pork barrel.
As for the Republicans stopping it. Hardly.

They need to do things for their districts too – if they want to get re-elected.

One Response to “Earmarks, everything you wanted to know – or not”

  1. Mark November 4, 2010 at 7:10 pm #

    For over 3 decades I’ve been hearing the boasting that Deficit Dan Inouye “brings in the bacon.” Hawaii gets something like $1.40 for every $1.00 it sends in to Washington. That would be all well and good if we were talking about separate COUNTRIES, but that 40 cents came out of some OTHER state’s hide.

    I always liked George Bernard Shaw’s comment: He that borrows from Peter to pay Paul….can always depend on the support of Paul.”

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