11.09.2010

A Conservative Case for Earmarks

There's been a lot of stuff prior to and since the election regarding the process of "earmarks". There are a couple things to point out about them, though, that I think are missing.

There is no doubt that earmarks are abused. Limbaugh, on his program yesterday, said they are just a way Congressmen and Senators have of bribing each other with the taxpayer's money. To be sure, this is true. It is also true that some people will not go along with what is right and true and holy unless they are bribed to do it. If we are to secure the votes of the unscrupulous, we must be prepared to use methods that will influence them - unscrupulous methods. I've recommended it before, but the musical 1776 is a classic portrayal of this. We must prioritize, and if building a bridge to nowhere is what it takes to get me judges that abide by the Constitution, I'll build a hundred bridges to nowhere.

The other thing about earmarks is that they effectively curtail executive power. Getting rid of the earmarks so that the agency - a branch of the Executive - decides entirely how to spend the money is simply taking the decision from one set of unscrupulous cads and giving the power to a different set of unscrupulous cads with one key difference. The head of that bureaucracy isn't going to be facing the voters in 2 years or 6 years or ever. The legislator will. Do you want a cad who has to answer to you, or a cad who can safely ignore you? Ending earmarks all together may well have the unintended consequence of greatly strengthening the hand of unelected bureaucrats at a time when their power - and the power of the judiciary - need to be seriously curtailed. On the other hand, I do agree with those who insist that earmarks be relevant to the issue being addressed in the legislation, and I think the process by which they are established needs to be open and transparent.

One of the things that has gotten us into the mess we're currently in is that the Congress has abdicated its primary function. Instead of legislating, it creates boards, commissions, agencies and the like who do the actual legislating by way of adding, amending, or subtracting federal regulations. Ending earmarks will continue this trend by shoving the spending power over to the executive as well. This is already done with entitlements - spending that is required whenever somebody meets certain requirements. Who decides whether Citizen X meets the requirements? Why, it's executive branch bureaucrats. They therefore control the spending concerning those entitlements and are not answerable to the people. It is this trend that has pushed government bureaucrats into thinking and acting like Public Masters rather than Public Servants. We will simply be fiddling about the edges until we reverse this trend and Congress reasserts its proper role in the federal government.

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