Military spending will thwart earmark ban, experts predict

February 8, 2011

By John T. Bennett -The Hill

Defense budget experts say the campaign to banish earmarks from Congress is unlikely to succeed because lawmakers will find other ways to direct money to military projects in their districts.

Military projects are too important in too many states and districts for an earmarks ban to halt targeted spending by lawmakers, former Senate congressional defense aides and analysts said. Plus, a ban on earmarks would do little to lower the deficit, leading some to predict lawmakers might even scrap the idea of banning them.

“People think earmarks are bad, but many defense earmarks go toward things Americans strongly support, such as small businesses, medical research and the National Guard and Reserves,” said Travis Sharp of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). “The defense industry considers earmarks to be a part of the defense budget, where innovation is more welcome.”

Many lawmakers view earmarks as a political necessity. The directed spending brings jobs and an economic boost to their districts and states. For that reason, defense insiders say, there is too much for members to lose by banning them outright.

“Bringing home the bacon is the core function for members of Congress in this political system,” said Loren Thompson, a defense consultant and analyst at the Lexington Institute. “The bottom line is Congress will come up with another way of doing this.”

Past reforms largely have produced little change and many loopholes, said Winslow Wheeler, a 30-year congressional aide now with the Center for Defense Information (CDI). “Expect more of the same,” he added.

President Obama said in his State of the Union Speech on Jan. 25 that he would veto any legislation containing earmarks. House and Senate Republicans have instituted their own voluntary ban, and majority Democrats in the Senate have conceded that they won’t be able to pass spending bills with earmarks in place.

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