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An Earmark Is An Earmark Is An Earmark

09 Dec 2010
Posted by Stan Collender

Prediction: No matter what the incoming GOP majority has said and wants us to believe, the number and dollar value of earmarks in the next Congress will be at least as great, and probably more, than the amount from previous years.  

In fact, when you combine the following two items together, and it's hard not to realize that the only thing the announced GOP ban on earmarks is only going to accomplish is to drive them underground where they'll be harder to see...and even that's not certain.

First, Hal Rogers (R-KY), whose nickname on Capital Hill is "Prince of Pork," will be the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee in the next Congress and, therefore, the new "Earmarker-in-Chief."  As Politico reports,

"Over the past two years, Rogers has requested $175,613,300 in earmarks, including funding for a cheetah protection nonprofit that his daughter works for.


That earmark figure, compiled by the LegiStorm database, counts only the 98 earmarks for which Rogers was the sole sponsor and not the 37 that he co-sponsored with other members. All told, the longtime appropriator has requested $246 million in earmarks over the past two years. On Wednesday, House Republicans formally granted Rogers the Appropriations chairmanship.

Throughout his 27 years on the committee, Rogers has left a trail of earmarks, including a sparkling airport terminal in Somerset, Ky., that gets very little traffic, as well as a homeland security research center.

To be fair, the article also points out that Rogers hasn't requested any earmarks since the supposed GOP ban on them went into effect earlier this year.  Then again, given how unlikely it was that any of the individual fiscal 2011 appropriations were going to be enacted anyway, this year may not be the best example of his ability to break his equivalent of a two-pack-a-day earmark habit.

Second, this story from CQ (which I'm linking to in because of CQ's subscription need), provides a snarky but completely accurate assessment of the different types of earmarkers in the House and Senate:

  • Earmark pragmatists, who see them as necessary for members of Congress to do (and keep) their jobs.
  • Earmark originalists, who see them as a solemn duty under the Constitution.
  • Earmark purists, against them on principle, either because they waste money or because they invite corruption.
  • Earmark symbolists, who oppose them for symbolic reasons only or because they’ve been browbeaten.
  • Earmark asterisks, who oppose them, except, of course, the ones they don’t oppose.

We've already seen some of the supposedly most virulent anti-earmarkers adopt one or more of these stances to justify an earmark.  The CQ article points out that tea party favorite Michelle Bachman (R-MN) is an asterisk and has come up with a new definition -- infrastructure doesn't count -- to justify the earmarks she wants  (Does she remember the bridge to nowhere in Alaska, the Ted Stevens-requested earmark that makes her definition look as silly as it really is?).   And almost immediately after he was elected, another tea party devotee, Rand Paul (R-KY), clearly softened his stance on designating how federal dollars should be spent while continuing to insisting he will never earmark.

As I've said before, the only think eliminating earmarks does is change who decides how an appropriation will be spent from Congress to the executive branch; it absolutely does not reduce the amount that will be spent.

So to a certain extent none of this really matters.  But congressional Republicans don't get to promise with great fanfare that they won't earmark funds and then find ways to get them anyway by using new justifications and definitions to make it appear as if they're complying with their own pledge.



But congressional Republicans

But congressional Republicans don't get to promise with great fanfare that they won't earmark funds and then find ways to get them anyway

Why not? These are the same Republicans who regularly campaign against the deficit, then run up more deficits than anyone.

Shocking I say, shocking.

Who would have thought Republicans weren't fiscal conservatives?

I think you've misunderstood

I think you've misunderstood what the Republicans mean. It's actually "ban earmarks [for everyone except me and my friends.]"

here we go again

Great post.
Rogers is from Kentucky and that says it all.

Unless its Pork Barrel Spending

The term “earmark” was originally used to refer to the practice of cutting or marking the ears of cattle or sheep to identify their owner. Interestingly, most etymology sources don’t include the marking of the ears of pigs. “Pork-barrel spending” has a different, and more recent history, as discussed here:

Sometimes, when talking about this specific spending sin, one tends to mix metaphors, as did John McCain, according to the following quote attributed to him by Factcheck;org:

“McCain repeated his promise to eliminate ‘earmarks" from federal spending bills, saying "the first big-spending pork-barrel earmark bill that comes across my desk, I will veto it.’

These metaphors do have one thing in common: barnyard animals.

Barack Obama, together with Tom Coburn, Tom Carper and John McCain, introduced and co-sponsored the “Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006” (Public Law No: 109-282) which was signed by President Bush in September 2006. This Act requires OMB to maintain a website that allows users to track federal spending, and thus make it easier to identify “earmarks”, “pork barrel spending” or even “pork-barrel earmarks” if you will. (See

While the bill was pending, Senator Ted Stevens (R) and Robert Byrd (D) were reported to have put “secret holds” on the bill to prevent its passage. Obviously, they were not successful, but this episode shows that pork-barrel earmark spending has bipartisan supporters---and detractors.

Obama also introduced a follow-up bill, “Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008”, that sought to expand this reporting, but it has died in committee. So, the issue seems to be one that Obama is interested in and perhaps this is one area where responsible leaders from both parties can work together.

Failing that, I would suggest that if we want to end this practice perhaps we should cut the ear of any politician who engages in it and subsequently salt and stuff him or her in a pork barrel.

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