Saturday, February 07, 2009

Does No Earmarks Mean No Pork?

Does No Earmarks Mean No Pork?

Words have meaning. They must, or effective debate is impossible. But as all students of Newspeak know too well, words can be twisted to convey meanings that are not in evidence. Thus "The One" and his minions feel free to state that the fraudulus bill contains no "earmarks," and thus insinuate, and even claim, that it contains no pork. So we need to define our terms.

An earmark is an item in an appropriations bill (or law) that states exactly what money is to be spent on and who will get it, and how. In Wikipedia it is defined as "In US politics an earmark is a congressional provision that directs approved funds to be spent on specific projects..."

Pork is money conveyed to favored constituents in an appropriations bill (or law). Again from Wikipedia "Spending that is intended to benefit constituents of a politician in return for their political support..."

See the difference? No? Well, these are terms of art, as strange as that shows the art to be. A discussion on NPR tries to make sense of the distinction, coming up with this:
When congressional leaders began to assemble the mammoth economic stimulus bill, top Democrats and the Obama administration decided that there would be no earmarks: no "special projects," no pork-barrel spending. In so doing, they gave up some control over how the money is spent, leaving the decision to public servants around the country.

"Someone has to decide how money gets spent. It's either going to be Congress or the executive branch or states or municipalities," says Fred Wertheimer of the congressional watchdog group Democracy 21.

Lawmakers had good reasons for stripping earmarks from the bill, Wertheimer says, because "they are simply going to become huge targets for attacking the credibility of the package, and they may very well end up as abusive earmarks."

It was a wise political decision, he says. But pulling earmarks out of the bill changes the balance of power in the government. If members of Congress aren't writing into the bill how the money will be spent, then someone else must make those decisions — or, in this case, a lot of people.

"Because there is so much money here, and in so many different forms, there is no single pathway for the money to go out to states and localities," says Sarah Binder of the Brookings Institution.

'This Is An Emergency'

When this bill passes, a Niagara Falls of money will flow out of Washington and into the accounts of state highway commissioners, governors and legislatures, local school boards, county executives — even mayors, Binder says.

"It raises a whole host of questions about how efficiently money can be spent, how effectively it will be spent, how quickly money can be spent, just because there's no set process here for determining how money will get out the door to create jobs or, as the president said, to save jobs," she says.

U.S. Rep. David Obey (D-WI), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, helped write the bill and says he doesn't like being asked about earmarks.

"We simply made a decision, which took about three seconds, not to have earmarks in the bill," he says. "And with all due respect, that's the least important question facing us on putting together this package."

Leaving out the earmarks does mean Congress will have less control over how the money is spent. But, Obey says, "So what? This is an emergency. We've got to simply find a way to get this done as fast as possible and as well as possible, and that's what we're doing."

That doesn't mean Congress will be responsible if the money is spent badly, he says.

"The person who spends the money badly will be responsible. We are simply trying to build as many protections in as possible," Obey says.
Now we know. Not using earmarks, a decision which took "about three seconds," merely means that congress has less control over how the funds are being spent. So nameless and faceless bureaucrats are now in control of the uncountable "Niagara Falls" of cash. And this is a good thing?