During the election season -- actually, during what seems like every election season, along with whatever "seasons" occur in the intervening periods between election seasons -- all sorts of lawmakers totally decried the practice of earmarking. It was a lot like listening to junkies decry heroin, in that it was a) completely understandable and b) hilariously sad to listen to. As it turns out, those same lawmakers have had a good deal of trouble actually quitting the earmark cold turkey. And, as the wrangling over the omnibus spending bill played out, we were treated to the spectacle of several legislators announcing their opposition to the package because it contained too many earmarks, many of which they themselves had inserted.
So, what's to be done about Congress' addiction to earmarks -- a totally inconsequential budgetary outlay, the banning of which is nevertheless supposed to serve as the clearest sign that your lawmakers have amended their free-spending ways? According to the New York Times, it's time to unleash the power of synonyms!
Though [Representative Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)] and other Republicans thundered against pork-barrel spending and lawmakers' practice of designating money for special projects through earmarks, they have not shied from using a less-well-known process called lettermarking to try to direct money to projects in their home districts.
Mr. Kirk, for example, sent a letter to the Department of Education dated Sept. 10, 2009, asking it to release money "needed to support students and educational programs" in a local school district. The letter was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the group Citizens Against Government Waste, which shared it with The New York Times.
Indeed: what if everyone started "lettermarking" in lieu of "earmarking?" That would create a "ban on earmarks," wouldn't it? That's apparently the way Kirk feels about it, because when his office was contacted with the inevitable "What's up with that?" line of questioning, Kirk's dutiful spokesperson replied: "Senator-elect Kirk became the first member of the Appropriations Committee to stop requesting earmarks and voted against the stimulus bill ... He has and will continue to be an advocate for his Illinois constituents before administration agencies but will not request Congressional earmarks to be included in House or Senate legislation."
Fancy! And the good news doesn't stop there, because there is also "phonemarking," which is "earmarking done with a phone," and "soft earmarking," which is earmarking done with a complicated system of winks and nudges.
The Times goes on to note that these aforementioned practices are "widespread" despite the fact that both the Obama White House and the Bush White House issued executive orders "instructing agencies not to finance projects based on communications from Congress." This is probably because:
Because all these methods sidestep the regular legislative process, the number of times they are used and the money involved are even harder to track than with regular earmarks.
Of course, incoming House Speaker John Boehner is resolute in his desire to end earmarks because "they have become symbol of what is wrong in Washington." So, it's all a part of Boehner's "war on symbols."
READ THE WHOLE THING:
Lawmakers Finance Pet Projects Without Earmarks [New York Times]