Earmarks are the slasher movie killers of the political world. You can burn them up, stab them a hundred times, run them through a woodchipper, then enclose the remains in concrete and drop them in the deepest part of the sea, but you can never be sure they’re completely dead.
Last year, thanks to the protests by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans, Republicans in Congress banned earmarks. Oh, sure, the ban was temporary, but given the popular sentiment against the Gateway Drug to Gargantuan Government, we all had good reason to believe they were gone, at least for a few years.
But, just as soon as we turned our attention to other things, here comes that old familiar sound…
..chi chi chi chi chi…mah mah mah mah mah..*
The huge federal transportation bill was in tatters in early March when Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama posed a heretical idea for breaking through gridlock in the House.
In a closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans, Rogers recommended reviving a proven legislative sweetener that became politically toxic a year ago.
Bring back earmarks, Rogers, who was first elected to Congress in 2002, told his colleagues.
Few members of Congress have been bold enough to use the “e” word since both the House and Senate temporarily banned the practice last year after public outcries about Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere” and other pork barrel projects.
But as lawmakers wrestle with legislative paralysis, there are signs that earmarks – special interest projects that used to be tacked onto major bills – could make a comeback.
“I just got up … and did it because I was mad because they were talking about how we can’t get 218 votes,” Rogers told Reuters, referring to the minimum of 218 votes needed to pass legislation in the 435-member House.
“There was a lot of applause when I made my comments. I had a few freshmen boo me, but that’s okay. By and large it was very well embraced,” he added.
Well of course it was well-embraced. Rep. Rogers just offered to open up the spigot of “free”re-election money again in a closed-door meeting. I guarantee his suggestion would not be greeted with much enthusiasm if he made it to the middle of a Tea Party rally, surrounded by the voters whose money he wants to throw down his favorite ratholes.
The story is worse than you think, though. Not only does Rep. Rogers, and a whole bunch of other Republican members of Congress want to bring pork back into style, but they want to do so in support of a bill that is plenty wasteful and corrupt all by itself. Much deviltry happens in the Transportation Bill, that is supposed to fund necessary federal highway construction and improvement projects but more often than not includes spending completely unrelated to highways and “improvements” that personally benefit members of Congress.
Fortunately, this time, Speaker John Boehner has denied that the task force Rogers wants is in the works. It’s not exactly a flat confirmation that earmarks will stay dead, and his spokesman didn’t quite say that the Speaker himself wants them to stay that way, but it’s probably the best political statement we’ll get.
It really is up to us responsible government folks to make sure earmarks don’t rise from the allegedly-dead to menace us again. We need to call out people like Rep. Rogers and those who think like him, those who can’t pass bills honestly without larding them up with big hands full of our money. It is our responsibility to keep them honest and, if they won’t stay on the straight and narrow, to replace them with someone who will.
*If you’re not familiar, that is my blog impression of what you heard every time Jason Voorhees snuck up on some hapless teenager in a Friday the 13th movie.