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When it comes to earmarks -- or more specifically, the much-touted ban on earmarks -- people in the know said that despite the show, other ways would be found to keep the money flowing to lawmakers' special pet projects. Essentially, all we're talking about is finding other, more creative ways to restrict how money is spent, but that don't name a special project directly. How can you do it?

Well, there are all sorts of things you can do. You can, of course, do things like fund a program that the Pentagon doesn't actually want, but just happens to be built in a particular Congressional district. Like, say, your own. Or in the district of your buddy, the Speaker of the House:

But buried deeply in these 359 pages of ugly surprises is a provision that would mean one community in America would do a lot better than all of the others. The legislation added an estimated $450 million for a particular bit of defense spending that the Department of Defense did not ask for and does not want.

The item is a down payment that would obligate the federal government to future payments that could well be three or four times the increased spending added to this particular piece of legislation, with a big portion of the funds flowing to two cities in Ohio—Cincinnati, where Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) grew up, and Dayton, the largest city in his congressional district.

The money will go to pay the costs to General Electric Co.’s General Electric Aviation unit and the British-owned Rolls Royce Group for their development of an engine for the new Joint Strike Fighter aircraft—money that looks, feels, and smells very much like an earmark.

Just to add a little interest, here's a twist that's always been with us. It's never been considered an earmark, per se, but it's an interesting way to control the way money is spent. It's different, of course, in that it actually prohibits certain federal spending, so it's not looked upon as "pork." It doesn't actually save any money, just as eliminating earmarks doesn't save any money, since both chunks of money just get bounced back into the accounts controlled by the various appropriations subcommittees (remember those 302(b) allocations?) to be spent elsewhere. But it's at least interesting to take a look at the sorts of micromanaging members sometimes like to engage in.

Here are a few examples, being offered as amendments to H.R. 1 in the next few days:

Offered By: Mr. Camp

 Amendment No. 24: At the end of the bill, before the short
 title, insert the following:
 Sec. _ None of the funds made available by this Act may be
 used for the opening of the locks at the Thomas J. O'Brien
 Lock and Dam or the Chicago River controlling Works, except
 in the event of flooding or as needed to protect public
 health and safety.

Offered By: Mr. Garrett

 Amendment No. 31: At the end of the bill (before the short
 title), insert the following:
 Sec. _
. None of the funds made available by this Act may
 be used to demolish structures within the Delaware Water Gap.

Permissible? Absolutely. They're called "limiting amendments," and they're an exercise of the power of the purse that generally aren't regarded as earmarks because, as I mentioned earlier, though they don't save any money, they prevent spending on particular items rather than funnel money to them. But they're just as parochial in nature, and often override (sometimes for good reason) decisions made by executive departments and independent agencies that rub someone the wrong way. Which of course was the original point of earmarking. That is, that the people who hold the actual power of the purse disagreed with or otherwise didn't trust decisions made by or authorized to be made by agency or executive department personnel (aka, "bureaucrats").

Usually, though, these limiting amendments are used a little more broadly, and are aimed at programs lawmakers don't like.

Offered By: Mr. Luetkemeyer

 Amendment No. 47: At the end of the bill (before the short
 title), insert the following:
 Sec. _. None of the funds made available by this Act may
 be used for the study of the Missouri River Projects
 authorized in section 108 of the Energy and Water Development
 and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2009 (division C of
 Public Law 111-8).

Offered By: Mr. Stearns

 Amendment No. 9: At the end of the bill (before the short
 title), insert the following:
 Sec. _
. None of the funds made available by this Act may
 be used to implement the Report and Order of the Federal
 Communications Commission relating to the matter of
 preserving the open Internet and broadband industry practices
 (FCC 10-201, adopted by the Commission on December 21, 2010).

Do Democrats do this, too? Oh my, yes.

Offered By: Ms. McCollum

 Amendment No. 50: At the end of the bill (before the short
 title), insert the following new section:
 Sec. _. None of the funds made available by this Act may
 be used by the Department of Defense for sponsorship of
 NASCAR race cars.

Offered By: Mr. Matheson

 Amendment No. 38: At the end of the bill (before the short
 title), insert the following:
 Sec. _
. None of the funds appropriated by this Act may be
 used for the Community Connect broadband grant program
 administered by the Rural Utilities Service of the Department
 of Agriculture.

Are these amendments out of bounds? Not at all. Hypocritical? Well, certainly not if so long as the focus on earmarks is about how money appears to be getting spent, as opposed to producing actual savings. But if there's any problem at all with them, it's that they're part and parcel of the same exercise: direct Congressional control of what projects do and don't get funded. That's either in bounds or out of bounds. Not a little bit of both. You could certainly argue that affirmative choices about spending ought to be left to the bureaucrats, while negative choices about what specific things don't deserve funding ought to remain the province of the Congress. And that might even be a pretty popular position. But it's not the role assigned to the Congress under the Constitution, and it's a pretty silly way to divvy up the job responsibilities.

The real point of the post, though, isn't to decide what sorts of directed spending are and aren't righteous. It's just to point out the various ways in which Congress uses appropriations bills to micromanage spending, for better or for worse. That's what they do. It's perhaps even what they're supposed to do. And as long as they're doing it, we should be aware of it and how it's done. And now we are!

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Comment Preferences

  •  interesting examples (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I found myself speculating on what was up with each. No ARMY race cars?

  •  Secretary Gates (0+ / 0-)

    will go before the congressional committees on Thursday and how much do you want to bet the new House chairs will try to get him support certain items they want.  He's an old hand at this so the Defense Department budget out to be a great football.  The question is who will be Charlie Brown?

    Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up...East Wing Rules

    by Pithy Cherub on Tue Feb 15, 2011 at 10:17:41 AM PST

    •  That's a variant of the practice known as... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      "phonemarking," in which members call up the agency or department heads and prevail upon them to spend money in certain ways or on certain projects, often bringing some other leverage to bear on the matter as well. Like reminding them that they're on the authorizing committee with jurisdiction over that department, etc.

  •  If earmarks are (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    a normal and legitimate part of the congressional process why do the pols get up at every opportunity and table thump against them? I think i know that one. They act like earmarks are just a way to funnel money to useless wasteful projects.  

     Another question where do they originate? Are they part and parcel of the bills there attached to or do they come from the agencies and departments? Do the states themselves request these earmarks?

     It really seems like a shell game with the money in the purse. it's just juggled around by process so it gets spent by hook or by crook. what does earmarks fall under discretionary spending?   The federal budget seems to be how they slice and dice the money collected from we the people and mainly ends up with our share cut.    


    •  Politics. Same reason as always. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shaharazade, mawazo

      It's the same reason that, for instance, Congressional terms are a normal and legitimate part of the process, but pols get up at every opportunity and table thump for term limits.

      The purest definition for earmarks (and there's no single, clear one out there) holds that they originate in the bills. There's an actual process through which members request them and appropriators consider and approve them, for inclusion in the annual appropriations bills.

      But there are other practices that have the same effect, including using definitional language in authorization bills (where a certain program might be designed to fund projects that only exist in a certain Congressional district, for instance), earmark-like language in committee reports accompanying authorization bills (which are non-binding, but agency and department heads ignore them at their peril), and things like "phonemarking" or "lettermarking" described in a comment above.

      •  thanks David (0+ / 0-)

        when I took up politics I had no idea how much there is to know about the processes in order to be able to know how the political really affects the process and visa verse. It so complicated to unravel the Show/ Kabuki from the real workings. The more you know about how it works that better you can see the consequences of your politics . Congress does matter and the inner working are fascinating.

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