The 2016 election was about beating the establishment, not a doubling-down on policies of the past.
2016 has been an election for the ages. It was an election predicated on vitriolic feeling towards Washington. It was an election defined as much by Trump’s demeanor as it was by Hillary Clinton’s corruption. Ultimately, it was an election that sent a mandate to Washington and those that work there: Drain the swamp.
Which makes the latest move by Republicans all the more baffling. The first order of business by Republicans is to consider rolling back the ban on earmarks — and of course, along with it, re-initiate the corruption associated with them.As you may remember, it was the conservative, anti-Washington Tea Party sentiment that forced Republicans to insert an earmark ban into the congressional rules back in 2010. By then, earmarks had come to symbolize all that was wrong with politics.
By definition, earmarks are “congressionally-directed spending,” or when individual members decide to send federal taxpayer money to specific projects for the benefit of their constituents.
However, earmarks have become synonymous with waste, favor trading, and pork barrel spending. Consider the infamous earmark submitted by former Senator Ted Stevens known as the “Bridge to Nowhere:” a $223 million bridge that connected an island of 50 people to mainland Alaska. Earmarks also represent corruption, such as the case involving imprisoned former congressman, Duke Cunningham, who accepted $2.4 million in military contracts in exchange for particular earmarks. They also represented bigger government and more spending. Take for example the “big dig” in Boston, a congressional earmark that cost over $14 billion.
As members became more addicted to buying off donors, constituents, or simply just having a building bearing their name, the politically directed spending, or earmarks, began to explode. The following chart truly says it all:
However bad earmarks have become, they still have their defenders. Members like John Culberson, R-Texas (F, 54%) and Mike Rogers, R-Ala. (F, 54%) have long argued that the Constitutional power of the purse provides individual congressmen with the prerogative to direct spending. While that is a valid argument on a large scale, say for example, on how much money should be spent in total at the Department of Defense, it becomes cronyistic and preferential at the individual level. For instance, it should be up to the military to purchase the most effective weapons for use in combat. That decision should not be up to a powerful congressman who has a single gun manufacturer in the district, and of course, owns by a company that happens to be large political donor.
We have seen this example play out in real life. Take the M1 Abrams tanks, for example, that the military is required to use. The military has repeatedly pleaded with Congress to suspend their production. Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno testified in the Senate, “we are still having to procure systems we don’t need, “Odierno said, adding that “the Army spends hundreds of millions of dollars on tanks that we simply don’t have the structure for anymore.”
Why does Congress force the military to spend $120 million on tanks it doesn’t need? Well, because Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio (F, 42%) has a manufacturing plant in a neighboring congressional district. As reported by Military.com, a press release offered by Turner is all too clear, “This provision [$120 million for Abrams tanks] keeps the production lines open in Lima, Ohio, and ensures that our skilled, technical workers are protected.”
It’s called political job security, folks — at the expense of a weakened military and wasted tax dollars.
Um, hello, Republicans. Seriously, is anyone listening?
But earmarks represent much more than just cronyism or pet projects for members. They also lead to larger government. McGill University professor Jacob Levy studied earmark spending and found that it does, in fact, lead to higher spending. His analysis, as paraphrased by Veronique De Rugy in the National Journal, explains how this happens.
As of this afternoon, press reports indicated that enough Republicans were in favor of lifting the earmark ban. As a result, it was actually Speaker Ryan who decided to table the vote for another day — or delay the vote — telling his members, “We just had a drain the swamp election.”
Um, hello, Republicans. Seriously, is anyone listening? Now Speaker Ryan, R-Wisc. (F, 51%) has promised his party that the issue will be re-addressed in the first quarter of the new Congress. Hopefully by then the Republican Party will come to its senses, otherwise this conservative Congress is off to a really bad start.