Earmark spending has always been a controversial issue for the citizens of the United States. Legislation often directs that certain funds be used specifically for a certain project. That legislative directive is an earmark. This term is only used by the US government.
Congress must pass all legislation regarding the way that money is spent from the treasury. This gives them the ability and power to distribute the funds to departments within the government. The United States Constitution directly requires Congress to perform this task.
An earmark is when the legislature actually tells the government agency how to spend its money. Many citizens believe that Congress uses such earmarks to fund projects that will benefit only their locality or personal political supporters. Oftentimes in the past, money was allocated for such projects without conferences or Congressional discussion.
With Congressional reformation, Congress must have conferences to discuss the projects for which funds are allocated. They must also provide documentation proving that they and their families will not benefit from that particular project.
- The Power of Money
The Constitution provides each branch of government with different jobs. This was meant to provide the people with a government that is able to keep itself in check. The power of the pocketbook lies within Congress. It always has and probably always will.
Having such incredible power over the American taxpayer’s wallet was a way to keep the president in line with his budget. Congress has the ability to accept the president’s proposed budget or to just say “No”. Congress must also keep itself in check by having conferences and meetings before earmarking taxpayer’s funds for their pet projects.
- How Much Is Spent On Earmarks?
On the average, approximately 2/5 of the national budget is spent on earmarks each year. Considering the extent of the national deficit, many concerned citizens have complained and called for a ban on earmarks.
Politicians claim that banning earmarks would be a futile attempt at getting the budget under control. Members of Congress could always convince subcommittee chairs to add their pet project to a bill. The Office of Management and Budget could be requested to add special projects to the president’s proposed budget. There are ways to get funding for almost any Congress member’s personal project.
- Earmarks or Earnings?
Democrat Jim Clyburn from South Carolina effectively earmarked $800,000 for the International African American Museum in Charleston. His nephew worked for the architectural company that designed the museum building.
People were up in arms over this earmark. Jim Clyburn’s family directly benefited from the funds of his earmarks.
This is not an isolated case. There are hundreds of earmarks utilized to fund projects that benefit the family and friends of Congress members.
- How Do The Earmarks Get Passed?
Earmarks are allocations hidden within another bill. For example, 2 million dollars was funded from the Defense Department’s budget to build a park in San Francisco. Another 4.4 million was taken from the same budget to fund a technology center in Missouri. The budget for the Defense Department is there to use for defense-related projects. Parks and private technology companies do not fall under the auspices of defense. Earmarks get allocated by flying under the radar of an otherwise quality bill.
The defense budget seems to get hit hard with earmarks. In 2005, 1.8 million went to fund a Lewis and Clark celebration, 4 million for hibernation genomics, and 8 million for the New England Manufacturing Supply Chain. Additionally, 1 million funded brown tree snakes, 200 million went to a peer reviewed cancer research program, 50 million to fund a peer reviewed medical program and 25 million for funding health care in Hawaii! These earmarks have nothing to do with the defense of the nation.
- You Can’t Fight the Government
Technically, you can’t fight the government but you can keep a check on it. Members of Congress must now put their names on the allocations that they support. If your representative is using a department’s budget to fund pet programs outside of that realm, call him on it. Letting our government know that citizens are aware of their antics will help. After all, we all have a voice on Election Day. It’s a matter of whether we use it or not.