Commentary

Earmark s

U.S. Senate can’t kick addiction, but handouts invite corruption
Once thought of as the wiser and more mature of the two chambers of Congress, the Senate is quickly building a reputation as too tied up in its traditions and the privileges of individual members to act in the interest of the American people.

The filibuster, formerly reserved for issues of great consequence, has become a commonplace stalling tactic. Then there’s the “hold,” by which a single senator can tie a nomination or a bill in knots. And, in the most telling recent example of fealty to a misguided tradition, the Senate is refusing to curb its appetite for earmarks — those “spending with a Zip code” items slipped into bills by individual members to fund pet projects.

Earlier this month, the House struck a blow for clean government by voting to ban earmarks that benefit for-profit companies. Six days later, the Senate took up its version of earmark reform — and promptly rejected the ban. Leading the fight against the ban were members of the Appropriations Committee, who’ve turned earmarking into a multibillion dollar industry for home-state interests.

There is no good reason to preserve earmarks to private companies. In the grand scheme of things, earmarks are a tiny percentage of the federal budget. They represent about $16 billion of $3.5 trillion in spending. But those that benefit private companies have an unhealthy tendency to be associated with corrupt, or at least unethical, behavior.

A case can be made that elected officials should be allowed to reserve for themselves some of the decisions on which small, public works projects are funded. Nonetheless, earmarks that go directly to for-profit concerns are another matter entirely.

In recent years, a whole industry of lobbying firms angling for earmarks for their clients has sprung up to funnel contributions to members who can deliver. That’s not the kind of business model Congress should have anything to do with.—USA Today TOP BACON BRINGERS Top individual earmark recipients in the U.S. Senate (in millions). • Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) $251 • Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) $205 • Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) $102 • Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) $101 • Kit Bond (R-Mo.) $95 • Harry Reid (D-Nev.) $91 • Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) $67 • Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) $60 • Bob Bennett (R-Utah) $59 • Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) $57


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