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 theÂ Senateâ€˜s champion earmarkers,Â Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, hammered home the nail that officially ended the practice â€” 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 â€” just five years ago â€” to this yearâ€™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.
â€œThe public suddenly noticed,â€ saidÂ Glenn Reynolds, a law professor and blogger who in 2005 helped start Porkbusters, a bipartisan blogger movement to highlight bum spending projects. â€œThe old system was based on voter ignorance, and voters quit being ignorant. Once voters quit being ignorant, the politicians couldnâ€™t get away with it anymore.â€
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 â€” significant money, though still low for the amount of attention it draws.
Now, with House Republican victories in 2010 andÂ Mr. Inouyeâ€˜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 couldnâ€™t be ignored, starting with the infamous â€œbridge to nowhereâ€ in Alaska in 2005.
Not resting on their success, earmark opponents have their eye on undoing some of the damage they ascribe to past earmarks.
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