Garrett Meyer • staff writer
To justify earmarks seems as simple as shooting pork in a barrel. Why not give a trivial percentage of the fiscal power of executive branch bureaucrats to the people who understand the needs of their communities and are directly accountable to the taxpayer? Why not lubricate the rusty, partisan gears of Congress so it can defeat its gridlock and 81 percent disapproval rating?These questions, however, misrepresent the true topic. The real issue is whether individualized representation in budgeting is the way the government should function. No one may be keen on looking a gift horse in the mouth—much less a gift building, bridge, or botanical garden—but earmarks have created the current-day scenario. This is a scenario in which lawmakers are voting down relief for Hurricane Sandy; this is not because of ignorance of the crisis or disdain for the East Coast, but because they cannot bring themselves to vote for a $50 billion dollar aid package that includes $150 million for fisheries as far away as Alaska. Any license we give lawmakers to predetermine federal dollars in this way is ultimately unjust.One could argue that earmarks allow a congressman to directly benefit his constituents in the budgeting process as his office calls him to do. However, success in his oath comes from being a convincing public servant with a substantial agenda, not undemocratically steeling in an appropriation that is beneficial to some, but otherwise undeserving. One could say that necessary funding will be scrimped if earmarks are abolished. Earmarks, though, rarely come outside of pre-allotted money and can hardly rely much further on the 16.4+ trillion dollars of red ink of our nation’s pocketbook. Even accounting for this, one could make the case that a representative’s firsthand knowledge of his constituency allows his to route funding to his region’s worthier causes. Yet, allowing personal discretion to assign billions of dollars and expecting the money to go where it is most needed is like opening up a free Gatorade cooler after a baseball game and expecting the refreshment to go to the thirstiest. No, Gatorade and money alike will instead always go to the quickest and most willing before the most noble. Earmarks not only enable corruption, but they put down those who resist them. A firm becomes a fool for investing in machines for capital instead of lobbyists in the Capitol. A representative commits treason in resigning to objective funding criteria instead of signing only his constituents’ criteria into law. One can plainly see that the pressure we place on lawmakers to seize the dangling carrots of earmarks distracts them from important local, state, and national needs.Whatever their political benefits, earmarks fail to maximize our nation’s benefit over an increasingly thin-stretched budget. The allocation of that budget may be agonizing with our wildly diverse priorities. Nevertheless, permitting earmarks to short-circuit the process only prevents our tax dollars from quickly going to the wrong place.