EDITORIAL: Earmark tampering

By NEMS Daily Journal

U.S. House Democrats and Republicans both lunged clumsily last week at controlling and reducing the national debt and deficit spending by voting in party caucuses to drastically reduce (at least temporarily) or eliminate earmarks, but the target is off center and ill-conceived.
Earmarks, directed appropriations for specific projects, have been made the Great Satan of the nation’s deficit and debt. They are not. Earmarked spending, long used by Mississippi’s most effective Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate, is a tiny part of the $3.7 trillion federal budget. Last year’s federal spending bills contained nearly 10,000 earmarks worth about $16 billion, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Sens. Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, both Republicans, rank among the most effective earmark crafters. Cochran, in fact, is first among all senators in directing spending, and it is done in cooperation with colleagues in both parties.
The attempt to curtail and/or eliminate earmarks is grand political theater.
Northeast Mississippi’s congressional delegation – U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, D-Booneville, Wicker and Cochran, fortunately have no intention of participating in the high-level drama.
“I do not agree with the efforts in the House to impose an earmark moratorium. Earmarks are not about how much the government spends, but about who decides how appropriated funds are used. The Constitution gives Congress the responsibility to decide how to allocate federal funds. The Senate may vote soon on whether to impose its own moratorium on earmarks. I will strongly oppose that amendment, and have no intention of ceasing to advocate for provisions in legislation that I feel are meritorious,” Cochran, vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said Thursday afternoon.
Wicker agrees with Cochran and is himself an exceptionally effective directed appropriator.
“Who decides” is the operative phrase.
The Senate Appropriations Committee, where Cochran’s persuasion is powerfully demonstrated, has adopted clear rules to ensure both transparency and ethical dealing in directed spending.
In fact, Senate rules accomplish much of what some in the House sincerely seek:
n Earmarks have been reduced to 50 percent of the 2006 level for non-project-based accounts.
n Earmarks for non-project based accounts were held below 1 percent of discretionary spending in FY 2010.
n The Appropriations Committee will consider no request for spending on congressionally directed items, as defined under Senate rules, unless a description of the items proposed is made public on the senator’s office Website when the is made to the committee.
n Consistent with the earmark reforms enacted in 2007, senators must certify that neither they nor their immediate family has a pecuniary interest in any congressionally directed spending they request from the Appropriations Committee.
Eliminating earmarks or reducing them in draconian measure would bankrupt some of Mississippi’s most important federal projects, plans and aspirations – and undeniably damage the academic strength of our universities. Reducing arbitrary will damage the positive impact of federally funded employment, and Mississippi’s joblessness rose again in January.
Wicker, Cochran and Childers stand on solid ground on the earmarks issue, and we all should hope they prevail in the long term.