Thursday, March 11, 2010

Congress Takes on Earmarks, Kinda

earmarkpig Dartmouth Professor, and former Chief Economist of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, Andrew Samwick made a quick post over at Capital Gains and Games flagging the Washington Post piece this morning on Congressional earmark reform.

Samwick notes:

It's not the $20 billion hit to the budget -- federal spending may not even go down if special interest projects are replaced by meritorious projects. It is the lack of transparency and the potential for corruption that is the problem


In my brief stint on Capitol Hill, earmark reform was often a bitter point of contention in our office. One project I had was to research the amount of money earmarked for a particular project over a ten year period. The earmark was obviously beneficial only to the denizens of the earmarking Senator’s state, and over a ten year period the sums appropriated added up to a staggering figure.

This is not to say that earmarks are the inheritance of only one party. The issue is a problem for both sides of the aisle with most Democrats and many southern Republicans, having long used the earmark as a means of manipulating the Federal fisc to deliver for the home state or district.

But the problem with the Democrats plan in the WaPo is that it singles out for-profit companies as the bulwarks of corruption. But this only gets at half the equation - consider the ACORN saga as the obvious example of non-profit earmarking corruption. In turn, House Minority John Boehner proposed a ban on all earmarks, both for-profit and non-profit, as a means of balancing the ledger.

The issue with earmarks, as Samwick notes, is not so much one of economics as it is one of normative, good governance. How much faith can ‘we the people’ have in government, if our taxpayer dollars are buried deep in annals of ‘must-pass’ legislation, and allocated for the odd, wealthy donor?

We should probably have little faith in Washington anyway, but the point is that earmarks are a veritable cesspool for corruption - which is really saying quite a bit given that we are talking about the cesspool of cesspools of corruption, Washington, DC.

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