If Sen. Mitch McConnell’s pledge to get behind the movement to ban the cynical practice of earmark spending is any indication that Republicans heard the message voters sent them in the recent congressional elections, the GOP is off to a good start.
It’s about time. Over the years members of Congress have acquired a lot of bad habits and the use of so-called earmarks — the Senate tacking on spending measures to bills that have already passed the House — are among the worst.
McConnell’s choosing to target that practice suggests that congressional Republicans may have received the voters’ message that they will no longer tolerate the kind of shoddy methods members of Congress sometimes use to feather their own legislative nests.
It’s the old idea of one hand washing the other. In the case of earmarks, both hands are dirty.
While the financial impact of using earmarks is comparatively small, the effect of members of Congress using them has proven to be out of proportion to the amount of government spending involved.
If a member of Congress wants his colleagues’ backing for his own pet projects he can swap his vote for whatever measures they favor and then tack them on to bills they pass. That’s earmarking.
Get rid of the practice of earmarking, and it will then be a case of legislation standing on its own without the bribes involved in earmarking — saying to your colleagues, You vote for my bill, and I’ll support yours no matter how bad it might be.
House Republicans have already promised to stop putting earmarks on bills they pass and send on to the Senate, and McConnell’s pledge to follow suit suggests that earmarks hopefully may be a thing of the past.
Moreover, House Speaker-elect John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said the GOP majority will stick to McConnell’s pledge in the next Congress due to take power in January.
Democrats, however, have not followed McConnell’s lead. They have defended earmarks, which they view as a key method of slipping federal funding to their states to pay for their pet projects.
Observers point to the Transportation bill now pending before Congress as one example of the effect on legislation of ending earmarks. Democrats fear that ending the earmarking process could kill many of their own local pet projects by starving them of federal funds — one method they use to funnel taxpayers’ money to their states.
In July, the House passed a Transportation bill with a whopping $70 billion price tag. It was loaded down with no less than 560 earmarks, many of which funded local transportation or infrastructure projects. The Senate has not followed suit, and indications are that action on the measure may be stalled.
In taking his stand on earmarks, Sen. McConnell defended his past support of earmarking, telling colleagues, "Make no mistake, I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state. I don't apologize for them."
He then added, "But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight. And unless people like me show the American people that we're willing to follow through on small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on our broader efforts to cut spending and rein in government."
McConnell’s conversion to anti-earmark champion could spell an end to the practice.
Good for you, Mitch. Hang in there.
Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan and a political consultant. He is the founder and chairman of The Reagan Group and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Look for Mike’s books and other information at Reagan.com. E-mail comments to Reagan@caglecartoons.com
© Mike Reagan