The cost of killing pork

18 Jan

Pig-Earmark-sizedThere’s an interesting theory going around that might explain the gridlock in Congress.

Here it is and you tell us if it makes sense.

It’s all about Congressional pork – the earmark.

It is hard to define, but easy to see.

After all, one politician’s wasteful spending is another’s badly needed bridge.

As we have explained in the past, an earmark is specific instructions that Congress tacks onto a spending bill that says exactly where and how the money they’re approving must be spent.

Over the past decade or so Congress and the public have turned against on them.

After the Republicans took back the House in 2010, Congress banned earmarks completely.

Here’s where the theory kicks in.

In the time since, Congress has done nothing but tie itself up with a supercommittee, a sequester, cliff hanging and continued promises to fix things in the future.

Political hacks used to say pork was the political grease that lubricated legislative deals.

We now may be seeing how true that was.

There’s some thought in high political circles that maybe it wouldn’t be so terrible to reintroduce some congressionally sanctioned bribery.

That would let a politician lay claim to the odd million in the interest of striking a deal worth much more and showing the folks back home they’re looking out for them.

A decade ago Republicans used the lure of earmarks to enforce party discipline.

Democrats, who were in the minority, squawked about the practice.

Then when they took power in 2007, they promised to reform the system.

A year later they started attaching lawmaker’s names to their earmark requests to increase transparency.

It backfired by making earmarks a fat target for the Republicans who’d staked much of the 2010 election on an anti-spending platform.

So here we are today.

The appropriations process has melted down.

There’s less incentive for a politician to serve on an appropriations committee because there’s nothing to hand out.

No favors to trade for, no support to win from others.

As a result the committees attract more partisans and fewer pragmatists.

As one Republican Representative put it, “There’s a human element in lawmaking that is real. Without earmarks, you’re removing all incentive for people to vote for things that are tough.”

The whole reason for banning earmarks was to reduce spending.

All it’s really done is move the decision-making power Congress used to have to the executive branch.

Here’s what happens – understand that earmarks still exist in a different way.

Congressional staffers on Capitol Hill make calls to agencies to ask that parcels of already-approved funding go to their districts.

Since no one wants a Congress member mad at them, the agency does its best to do it.

That’s one of the theory’s floating around to explain part of Congress’ dysfunction.

Probably makes as much sense an anything else attached to Congress.

In other words – who knows…

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