An Earmark Is An Earmark Is An Earmark

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.

About Stan Collender 126 Articles

Affiliation: Qorvis Communications

Stan Collender is a former New Yorker who, after getting a degree from the University of California, Berkeley, moved to Washington to get it out of his system. That was more than 30 years ago.

During most of his career, Collender has worked on the federal budget and congressional budget process, including stints on the staff of the House and Senate Budget Committees; founding the Federal Budget Report, a newsletter that was published for almost two decades; and for the past 11 years writing a weekly column for and now

He is currently a managing director for Qorvis Communications, where he spends most of his time working with and for financial services clients.

Visit: Capital Gains and Games

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