Monday, June 26, 2006

Costly Earmarks -- Congressionally Speaking

On June 20, just before the introduction of Representative Hinchey’s proposal requiring the president to obtain Congress’ authorization before launching a preventive military adventure against Iran, the House of Representatives’ floor managers called up an amendment dealing with reforming “earmarks.

In anatomy, earmarks might be a term used for the number and placement of decorative studs on the ear – particularly in the lobe. Or it could refer to the shape of the lobes or the distance of the top of the ear from the head. If the ear is ill formed, the shape might be a contributing factor in restricting the ability to hear sounds.

In politics, earmarks are those special projects that a Member of Congress gets into a “must-pass bill.” According to the Congressional Record, during the debate on amendments aimed at controlling this process, Representative Jack Kingston (GA-1) revealed that in the last few years, the number of individual projects for which House members asked for funding has been 35,000. Appropriators for Labor-Health and Human Services alone were inundated by 10, 272 funding requests from 417 members – virtually 25 projects on average per Member. (One must wonder what happened to the other 18 House Members.)

Kingston then summarizes the decreased funding in eight pending pieces of legislation for FY2007:


Bill House version Conference agreement

Agriculture $35m below 2006 $277m below 2006

Defense $1B below 2006 $2.7B below 2006

Energy/Water $197m below '06 Not given

Interior $89m below '06 Not given

Military quality
of Life $40m below '06 $804m below '06

Labor-Health &
Human Services $100m below '06 Not given

*Transportation-
Treasury-Housing $2.1B below '06 Not given

Science-State-
Justice $1.3B below '06 Not given

*Total FY06 funding, mostly for transportation projects, was $986 billion – yes billion.

Given the deficits of recent years, one can hardly argue with ending programs no longer needed or stopping programs that never were needed – except to insulate incumbents for re-election. But some cuts, if better publicized, would perhaps be considered harmful to society. Moreover, Members might actually learn what a specific program entails; Kingston admitted he didn’t know what the “Asia-Pacific Partnership” was.

Unfortunately, he seemed disinclined to find out.

Kingston helped here by numbering and then naming the programs terminated. Some that seem questionable are:
Programs
Bill # Ended and Name
Dollars Saved

Agriculture 8 $414m Child nutrition
contingency reserve fund

Energy-Water 3 $411m Geothermal R&D
technology

Foreign Opns 4 $286m Conflict Response Fund
Congo Debt Relief
Africa Housing Facility
Asia-Pacific Partnership

Homeland Security 6 $154m Coast Guard Fast
Response cutter

Interior 4 $54m Bureau Land Manage-
ment rural fire program
Asia-Pacific Partnership

Labor-Health &
Human Services-
Education 56 $1.66B Math Now for elementary
and middle schools
Center for Disease Control
Pandemic flu base activity
CDC Bulk Monovalent
vaccine
Early Learning Fund

Science-State- 8 $96m Public TV Facilities
Justice planning & construction

Transportation-
Treasury-HUD 6 $742m Housing Counseling
assistance

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