Earmarks end for one year, but perk still potent on Hill

February 10, 2011

By Stephen Dinan, The Washington Times

Capitol Hill insiders say at least 75 percent of lawmakers privately still think earmarking is a correct and proper use of congressional authority. Yet last week, one of the Senate‘s champion earmarkers, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, hammered home the nail that officially ended the practice — at least for the time being.

The swift fall of a long-treasured congressional prerogative is a lesson for other movements in how a position held by a minority in Washington can become the dominant policy, resulting from the relentless efforts of a few congressional opponents combined with good luck, bad fiscal policy, some criminal behavior and a public armed with the Internet.

But the path from the heady days of political pork — just five years ago — to this year’s congressional ban that is backed up by a presidential veto pledge, also shows just how toxic spending has become and how savvy tea-party-inspired voters have gotten at understanding the intricacies of the federal budget.

“The public suddenly noticed,” said Glenn Reynolds, a law professor and blogger who in 2005 helped start Porkbusters, a bipartisan blogger movement to highlight bum spending projects. “The old system was based on voter ignorance, and voters quit being ignorant. Once voters quit being ignorant, the politicians couldn’t get away with it anymore.”

Earmarks peaked in 2006. Citizens Against Government Waste says the marks at that time accounted for $29 billion, or slightly more than 1 percent of federal spending. By 2010, that figure had fallen to about one-half of 1 percent — significant money, though still low for the amount of attention it draws.

Now, with House Republican victories in 2010 and Mr. Inouye‘s announcement last week, 2011 and 2012 spending bills promise to be the first earmark-free measures in decades.

The fall of earmarks is a dramatic story of deepening deficits, criminal behavior by lawmakers and a growing list of bum projects that couldn’t be ignored, starting with the infamous “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska in 2005.

Steve Ellis, vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense, calls that year the “perfect storm” of events that eventually culminated in this year’s moratorium.

Not resting on their success, earmark opponents have their eye on undoing some of the damage they ascribe to past earmarks.

To read more, visit: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/feb/9/earmarks-end-for-one-year-but-perk-still-potent-on/

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