Last year, incoming speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, vowed Democrats would “bring transparency and openness to the budget process and to the use of earmarks.”
It seems Congressional Democrats’ professed appreciation for fiscal responsibility has had the life expectancy of a firefly.
Now, Democrats and Republicans are openly battling each other over pork-barrel spending, better known as earmarks. An earmark is where a member of Congress secures federal money for their home district, “bringing home the bacon.”
In the House, these provisions are not debated on the floor. Instead, they are anonymously inserted in committee reports before final passage. The spending is then voted into law without public scrutiny. The current earmark system is a disgrace and an invitation to corruption.
And both parties have an embarrassing history with earmarks. Ronald Reagan vetoed a highway-spending bill because it had over 100 earmarks in it. Two years ago, the highway bill included over 6,000.
The American people have had it with earmarks. Polls show that one of the reasons driving Congress’s near record-low poll numbers is their out of control spending. Both NBC News/Wall Street Journal and Quinnipiac University polls show congressional approval at 23%, seven points lower than that of the president’s. For some committed conservatives especially, this disapproval has intensified to outrage.
This outrage is one of the reasons Republicans lost power. Polls show that a major reason, along with the Iraq war and corruption, for GOP losses in 2006 was wasteful spending.
And frankly, some Republicans deserved to lose power. Political parties are elected to solve problems. You get elected to do a job. When you fail to live up to your principles and your promises, the people will turn elsewhere.
This has nothing to do with legitimate government spending that happens to take place in one particular district. Federal funding is needed for some things, and that’s why Congress has constitutional spending power. But that’s also why all earmarks should be publicly disclosed and debated in Congress, so that necessary spending goes forward but wasteful spending is stopped.
Instead, Congress has abused its spending power egregiously. When someone proposes $223 million dollars to build a bridge in Alaska to connect an island with less than 50 people to the mainland, the infamous bridge to nowhere, voters can be expected to get angry.