McCaskill Targets Earmarks, Again
Defenders of earmarks, which include Rep. Ron Paul and his fans (of which I am one, although I didn’t support him in the GOP primary in ’08), like to state that earmarking gives elected officials the power to distribute money instead of bureaucrats. For example, if Congress appropriated $10 million for widgets, it can either trust bureaucrats to determine who gets which widget, or the elected officials can decide themselves how to spend the $10 million on widget-related projects. Either way, $10 million is spent on widgets. With earmarks, they argue, voters can more easily render judgments upon the choices that were made.
That argument is valid, but only in a short-term sense: It holds true for the market day of whatever bill is being voted on. In the long run, however, the power to earmark a bill — which involves taking appropriated money and directing its use in a manner that does not get specifically debated or voted on — is a big part of the continuing pressure to spend more and more money every year. If members of Congress did not have the power to direct money quickly and easily back to their constituents, some of them would undeniably have more of an incentive to reduce expenditures. If they could not earmark, they would have to go through the longer and more transparent process of getting individual approval for each of their pet projects, with up and down votes for all of the various amendments and proposals. No doubt much of the spending would remain. At some point, though, when it becomes more difficult to get projects approved, there would be less spending. If the process became more open and obvious, some members of Congress might think twice about how self-serving their projects appear.
Earmarking is one of the central issues in the problem of targeted benefits and dispersed costs that is central to the phenomenon of pork barrel spending.
Once again, I commend Sen. McCaskill for her efforts in this regard.