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March 17, 2008

Earmarks: How Your Money Is Disappearing


Most Americans don’t like it when a third of their income gets taken away by Washington only to be spent according to the wishes of a flawed few. But as is inherent in human nature, these taxpayers try hard to come up with a justification for sending other Americans an arbitrary amount of their own hard-earned money. And unsurprisingly, the one rationale they can pass for a quasi-consolation is that hey, at least the money is going to something good.


Is it really?


In recent years, you have paid $325,000 for a swimming pool that you will never swim in, $1.4 million for curriculum development at a Mississippi school your children will never hear of and $13.5 million for an organization that finances events no one you know will ever attend (such as the World Toilet Summit).


You have labored every day in order to contribute $500,000 for the Sparta Teapot Museum in North Carolina; $400,000 for the Kam Wah Chung & Company Museum in Oregon (what? yeah, precisely); $550,000 for the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington; $950,000 for a parking facility at an art museum in Omaha; and $50,000 for a Mule Museum in California.


Instead of keeping some more of your cash to send your kids to private school or to pay off your own student loans, you are contributing $8 million to replace control towers at two Massachusetts airports that serve the homes of Senators John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, $2 million to improve a runway used by a few corporate jets and nearly $100,000 to help upgrade a luxury hotel in Florida.


You probably get the point by now. In all, you are spending many billions of dollars every year on what are known as “earmarks.” Earmarks are provisions forcing the federal government to fund “pork” projects, which are specific pet projects demanded by members of Congress, but funded by taxpayers. A congressman can insert funding for a doorknob museum in his home district and make you pay for it. There is no debate over this earmark, and no questions asked.


Despite their widespread use, earmarks aren’t bankrupting the country by themselves. But they are also sometimes used to buy votes on spending bills that do. For instance, a congressman refusing to vote for a bloated spending bill will be “encouraged” to do so if the bill also includes funding for promiscuous penguin research at a university that is located in his home district. This congressman will then vote for the bloated bill, and thus for the hundreds of earmarks in it. Come election time, he will brag to his grateful constituents about the federal funds he managed to bring home.


Many of these pet projects are absolutely useless, and are a reflection of corrupt politics. Take the $320 million Alaskan bridge that was designed to connect an island of 50 people to the mainland, despite the existence of a ferry that ran every 15 to 30 minutes.


Or consider the $2 million “Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service” in New York requested by Congressman, umm, Charles Rangel.


Take a minute to think about the $1 million that Sen. Barack Obama requested for the University of Chicago Hospital, where Michelle Obama is a vice president whose salary nearly tripled soon after the election of her husband to the Senate.


To be sure, rampant earmarking is a bipartisan disease infecting the leadership of both Democrats and Republicans. In fact, a proposal put forth by Sen. John McCain and others to ban earmarks for one year failed last week on an unfortunate vote of 29-71 in the Senate. But earmarking’s few heroic opponents are fiscal conservatives such as Congressmen Jeff Flake and John Shadegg, and even more notably, Senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn.


On the other hand, some of the biggest porkers have been fiscal liberals, whether Democrats or Republicans. Sen. Hillary Clinton received $342 million in earmarks last year. Obama requested $330 million. Now, they are both suddenly against pork. Ah, the politics of “change.”


One can only hope that they will change even more and pledge that as president, they would not sign any bill that has earmarks in it, as McCain has. No candidate deserves a vote for president without pledging, at the very least, that American taxpayers will not have to sacrifice their mortgage payments in order to fund mule museums, bridges to nowhere or a new wing at Michelle Obama’s hospital.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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