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Earmarks and Audacity

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WOW! Politicians on both sides of the aisle are now acting as if they were crowned rather than elected. Members of both the Senate and House have directed taxpayer money toward personal projects. We learned on February 9 that 33 congressmen have directed more than $300 million of taxpayer money, in the form of earmarks and other spending provisions, toward dozens of public projects that are next to or within about two miles of the lawmakers’ own property.

I include only the top ten (money-wise) here. You can find the entire list at this Washington Post site.

  1. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) – $100 million
  2. Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) – $51.9 million
  3. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) – $50 million
  4. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) – $21.5 million
  5. Rep. Mark Rahall (D-WV) – $20 million
  6. Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) – $7.1 million
  7. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) – $6.9 million
  8. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) – $6.3 million
  9. Rep. John Oliver (D-MA) – $5.1 million
  10. Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo (R-NJ) – $4.68 million

This is perfectly legal under the ethics rules congress has written for itself. Rules governing behavior should not be self-generated, especially when congress is involved. And who can forget that Pelosi, while thwarting credit card reform for two years, had her husband buy $1 million to $5 million of Visa stock, then watched her investment increase by 203 percent. And let’s not forget John Boehner (R-OH), who opposed Obamacare, bought numerous healthcare company stocks while opposing the “public option.”

In the irony department, Pelosi supported the House version of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, including an amendment inserted by Republicans that highlights the controversial purchase of Visa shares by her husband, known as the “Pelosi provision.” She also accused Republicans of weakening the bill by deleting some provisions passed by the Senate. At least congress is making a big show of trying to police itself in regard to insider trading. But all we hear about earmarks is a moratorium and an effort by two senators to end them. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) introduced the “Earmark Elimination Act of 2011.” But, in view of earmarks she has sought, how serious can Sen. McCaskill’s efforts be?

Earmarks and other spending provisions are a drop in the bucket compared to the total federal budget. But the sheer audacity of the congressmen is what is most striking. Federal legislators of both parties see themselves as rulers rather than citizens. Peter Schweizer was correct when he titled his book Throw Them ALL Out.

But that’s just my opinion.

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  • There are earmarks and then there are earmarks. Members of Congress are, after all, elected to represent their districts and their states, so in a sense one can hardly blame them for working to further their constituents’ interests.

    And this is hardly a new phenomenon. There were no doubt at least a few corrupt congressmen in the first Congress – a hangover from the corrupt (and since thankfully reformed) British electoral system.

    And it’s not just Congress itself, but the entire DC culture. I think even the best-intentioned rookie congresspeople get sucked in, probably without even realizing it until it’s too late.

    How about this? Fixed, single-term limits of two years for representatives and six years for senators. After that, they get to run for another term IF – and ONLY if – they exceed, say, 90 on a 1-100 ethics/competence scorecard. Oh, and Congress does NOT get to devise the scoring system – or score themselves.

    Sound like a plan?

    (Not that they’ll ever go for it.)