A few days ago, I listened to Neil Cavuto, Fox News, rant at a Congresswoman about earmarks in the budget submitted by Congress. When she could squeeze a word in, she tried to explain that earmarks endorsed by her were justified. She had no opportunity to argue her point. Cavuto simply talked over her implying she was trying to justify the unjustifiable.
My curiosity was aroused. What are earmarks? What is pork? Are earmarks and pork the same? Are they justifiable?
Wikipedia encyclopedia gave me the best definitions I could find of both earmarks and pork as follows:
Despite the lack of a consensus definition, the one used most widely was developed by the Congressional Research Service, the public policy research arm of the U.S. Congress:
"Provisions associated with legislation (appropriations or general legislation) that specify certain congressional spending priorities or in revenue bills that apply to a very limited number of individuals or entities. Earmarks may appear in either the legislative text or report language (committee reports accompanying reported bills and joint explanatory statement accompanying a conference report)."
In the United States legislative appropriations process, Congress is required, by the limits specified under Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution, to pass legislation directing all appropriations of money drawn from the U.S. Treasury. This provides Congress with the power to earmark funds it appropriates to be spent on specific named projects. The earmarking process has become a regular part of the process of allocating funds within the Federal government.
Pork or Pork barrel
Typically, "pork" involves funding for government programs whose economic or service benefits are concentrated in a particular area but whose costs are spread among all taxpayers. Public works projects, certain national defense spending projects, and agricultural subsidies are the most commonly cited examples.
Citizens Against Government Waste outlines seven criteria by which spending can be classified as "pork":
1. Requested by only one chamber of Congress;
2. Not specifically authorized;
3. Not competitively awarded;
4. Not requested by the President;
5. Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding;
6. Not the subject of congressional hearings;
7. Serves only a local or special interest
Reading these definitions, my conclusions are that earmarks are appropriately authorized by congress in the legislative process. Pork, on the other hand is inserted into legislation without being appropriately authorized by Congress.
I think we can agree that pork is a misuse of the legislative process. Is it illegal? Not being a constitutional lawyer, I don’t know, but I think it is. I would like to see it tested before the Supreme Court. Apparently, both the legislative and executive branches intend to keep sneaking pork to into legislation.
What about earmarks? We can probably agree that they are a permitted part of the legislative process, however, are they an appropriate part of the process? I’m not sure. In a bill to improve our road and bridge infrastructure, earmarking certain sections of road or certain bridges would be appropriate if there was a justifiable necessity to expedite these repairs. On the other hand, in a defense bill earmarking a project in favor of one of two equally qualified contractors wouldn’t seem appropriate even though one might argue that there was a justifiable reason such as the preferred contractor was located in a depressed area where the project would have benefits broader than just the project. This would worry me. There is too much opportunity for favoritism however, my concerns are immaterial earmarks are a part of the system, providing a necessary function.
Is it appropriate to return some of the tax money to a congressional district through earmarks? I think so as the Congresswoman was trying to explain to Neil Cavuto. A representative is just that, she represents her constituents. She should receive a fair proportion of the funds returned to the states and congressional districts and be allowed to specify where this money will be spent through earmarks.
Bottom Line, as Ira would say.
Earmarks are an authorized and appropriate part of the legislative process. Pork, on the other hand is a misuse of the legislative process, is probably illegal and corrupts the system.