George Will

     Often, earmarks are included in neither the House nor Senate versions of an appropriations bill, but are inserted surreptitiously and at the last minute in the report of the conference committee -- and the House rule against this is routinely waived. Flake's legislation, H.R. 1642, would prohibit federal agencies from funding any earmark not contained in a bill's actual legislative language. And the bill would allow a point-of-order to prevent the waiving of House rules against including non-germane spending -- earmarks not included in either House or Senate spending bills -- in conference reports.

     The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin of Ontario, Calif., reported last week that a $1.28 million earmark put into the transportation bill by Rep. Gary Miller, R-Calif., is for improving streets in Diamond Bar, Calif., in front of a 70-acre planned housing and retail development of which Miller is co-owner with those who are his largest campaign contributors. He says Diamond Bar requested the money.

     No doubt it did: If the federal government is going to finance localities' infrastructures, localities will rush to the trough. And most House members believe that abstaining from earmarks would be career-killing folly. But when a primary challenger faulted Flake for never delivering earmarks -- and for that reason three of the five mayors in Flake's district endorsed his challenger -- Flake won easily.

     Still, many Americans unblushingly enjoy in practice what they deplore in principle -- Washington's expensive refusal to limit itself to proper federal business. So, a final, and whimsical, proposal:

     The public today is denouncing Congress for its promiscuous attention to the public's appetites for government favors. Although it is a principle of Washington discourse that no discouraging word shall ever be said about the American public, nevertheless:

     On the door of every congressional office into which favor-seekers troop, there should be a sign with these words from the late George Stigler, the Nobel Prize-winning economist from the University of Chicago: ``I consider it a cowardly concession to a false extension of the idea of democracy to make sub rosa attacks on public tastes by denouncing the people who serve them. It is like blaming the waiters in restaurants for obesity."

     Many people attacking Congress are also attacking themselves. And they are correct. Twice.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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