“EARMARKS is a terrible word, right?”

These were the words of former US Congressman, Tom Rooney at the Martin County Taxpayers Association’s annual dinner held on March 27th at the Kane Center.  Mr. Rooney is known to be forthright and honest.  He didn’t disappoint.  Addressing a controversial topic, even ostensibly dredging it up from the dead …he made some good points.

An earmark is a designation of funds or resources to a specific project or toward a particular purpose.  But the honorable Mr. Rooney describes earmarks as a way to “bring home the bacon”.  The corruption that unethical politicians brought to these designations along with the public outrage at projects like “the bridge to nowhere” caused the Republican Party to “ban” earmarks back in 2011.  Certainly such corruption must be somehow avoided. But there are ways to reign corruption in and still direct funds taken from taxpayers back to their communities to fulfill LOCAL wants and needs.  What if, Mr. Rooney explained, he could have told the Army Corps that he wanted funds directed toward the repair of the Herbert Hoover Dike?  That example brought his point home to everyone in the audience.  “Now, he explained, all I can do is ask, or beg.”  “But even asking is a violation of the Republican Party rule.”

The ban of earmarks may have been a typical swing too far.   Tweaking the system to stop Representative BigBucks from kicking a project to his/her cousin is one thing.  But, the Party “threw the baby out with the bathwater”.  Something, I have observed that we tend to do.  Usually, though, we end up coming back to some kind of middle ground.  What was it Churchill said?  “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

It may be time to seek that middle ground.  The unintended consequences of banning earmarks is to add to the stubborn divisiveness of Congress.  How?  No bargaining chips.  Earmarks were bargaining chips.  We have all negotiated for what we want.  In all relationships there is a give and take…spouses, employers and employees, friends…you name it.  What if we could have had, for example, the Herbert Hoover Dike fixed by now because our legislator had bargained with another legislator?  Think of the far reaching benefits of that negotiation.  And ideally the other legislator’s constituents would have been quite happy with whatever bacon he/she brought home as a result of the bargain.

As it sits now, bureaucrats far away from us remember, make the decisions as to where OUR local tax dollars go.  This banning of earmarks has simply given the Executive Branch more power.  Not the intention of our forefathers.  With earmarks the government closest to the people… your representative in the US Congress…would be able to decide where that money goes.  As Mr. Rooney stated “We are neutered as far as what we can really do for you.”   “Perhaps” he said, “we should call them something else”.  “Directed Government Spending” was his suggestion.

Recent comments from Democrats indicate that this is a bi-partisan issue.  In September of 2018 Democrat House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, MD said the banning of earmarks led to an “abdication of Congress’ power of the purse.”   And just this February, Appropriations Committee Chairwoman, Nita M. Lowey, D – N.Y. expressed her desire to bring them back.  It may be time to re-think this.  After all, it’s the ethical application of this process that we really seek.  And, I sure would like to see that dike fixed.