By Marty Russell
My mother always said be careful what you wish for, you might just get it and the great 20th century commentator H.L. Mencken said, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.” Amen.
I believe we’re about to see those truisms in action if the Republicans and Tea Partiers in Congress are genuinely serious about banning earmarks. Earmarks, by the way, are federal funds appropriated for specific projects and programs. The term comes from the practice of clipping or tagging the ears of livestock, like pigs, to show ownership. They are also referred to as “pork” and the practice of securing them is called, “bringing home the bacon” or “eating at the trough.” And you thought calling members of Congress swine was a derogatory term.
But now the Republicans and their Tea Party allies are vowing to eliminate those earmarks, meaning, in theory, that congressmen will no longer be allowed to insert funding for special projects back home into larger bills where they generally go unnoticed. It’s part of the cut-federal-spending, cut-the-deficit gospel of the born-again GOP and the Tea Party. We’ll see. I have my doubts that anyone in Washington is genuinely sincere about eliminating earmarks because that’s what keeps most of them in office, especially in poorer, rural states like Mississippi which depend heavily on federal funds.
Mississippi Sens. Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran have already indicated they’ll back the banning of earmarks. If both are sincere about backing the movement – without a backdoor scheme to get around it – it will be a major change of heart for both men and a major change for the worse for Mississippians. According to the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense, Mississippi led the nation in earmarks last year. Cochran alone accounted for $470 million in total earmarks for his home state while Wicker brought home $390 million in bacon. Individually, that is without fellow senators’ backing, Cochran brought home $76 million and Wicker $4 million. By comparison, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who only this week bowed to the earmark pledge, brought home only $51 million while Democratic leader Harry Reid only accounted for $27 million in earmarks in 2009.
The money Cochran and Wicker secured for Mississippi went for everything from airports to rural development to health care in this state. If they are sincere, and I keep using that word with a lot of reservation, about ending earmarks, Mississippi stands to lose a lot of federal money which means things either won’t get done here or the state will have to find a way to replace it with state funding. In other words, state and local taxes could go up. As I said, be careful what you wish for.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org