"We are going to ban all earmarks, the process by which individual members insert pet projects without review."--Barack Obama, Jan. 6, 2009
Foreclosures, which are spreading by epidemic proportions, now affect nearly one in every eight American homeowners. The labor market is deteriorating at an even faster rate, with the jobless rate jumping to 8.1% in February. People who felt safe and secure at their jobs and in their homes are seeing their very livelihoods threatened or destroyed, and the bread lines are forming.
But while more and more are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to just get by, our so-called representatives in Congress are playing games with our hard-earned taxpayer dollars. The more these politicians talk about change, however, the more things stay the same. The $410 billion Omnibus spending bill, which will supposedly keep the government running for the next fiscal year, is a case in point. Despite our president's pledge to ban all earmarks, this piece of legislation is loaded with ridiculous, wasteful projects that have absolutely nothing to do with keeping the federal government operating.
The politicians use these pork projects, earmarks (also referred to as Christmas tree items) and WAMs (walking around money) to benefit their constituents or campaign contributors. Earmarks (the term originated back when cows and pigs had their ears marked to identify their owners) have been tacked onto just about every major appropriations bill that has made its way through Congress in recent years, and this year is no exception.
As Michael Grunwald reports for Time:
When it comes to Congressional earmarks, it's hard to decide who's the biggest hypocrite. The current media favorite is President Obama, who sought earmarks as a senator, criticized earmarks as a candidate, and now plans to sign a spending bill stuffed with nearly 9,000 earmarks. But what about earmark-addicted Republicans, who oversaw an unprecedented explosion of earmarks when they controlled Congress, resisted efforts by Obama and other Democrats to inject accountability into the earmark process, and even grabbed over 40% of the earmarks in the current bill, yet have the gall to blast Obama's cave-in?
At a staggering 1,132-pages, this spending bill is so cumbersome and the mountain of bureaucratic doublespeak so obscure that it's difficult to separate the good from the bad. And the listing of pork projects, which are worth approximately $7.7 billion, is so huge that it is nearly impossible to sift through. With so many inane, wasteful items to wade through, you're forced to give up before reading them all. The following are just a tiny fraction of what's included:
• $1.7 million for pig odor research in Iowa
• $2.1 million for the Center for Grape Genetics in New York
• $1.9 million for the Pleasure Beach water taxi in Connecticut
• $1.7 million for a honey bee factory in Weslaco, Texas
• $1 million for Mormon cricket control in Utah
• $819,000 for catfish genetics research in Alabama
• $650,000 for beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi
• $951,500 for Sustainable Las Vegas
• $2 million "for the promotion of astronomy" in Hawaii
• $167,000 for the Autry National Center for the American West in Los Angeles
• $238,000 for the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii
• $200,000 for a tattoo removal violence outreach program to help gang members or others shed visible signs of their past
• $209,000 to improve blueberry production and efficiency in Georgia
• $280,000 for alternative uses for tobacco
• $190,000 for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Wyoming
• $400,000 to combat bullying in Montana
• $6.6 million for termite research in New Orleans
• $4.5 million to conduct research and development into new wood products in Duluth
• $500,000 for a biking pedestrian trail in Indiana
• $250,000 for the Idaho Sage Grouse
• $1.2 million for the Wolftrap Performing Arts Center trail
Then there's $3.5 million for Koochiching, a county in Minnesota with large tracts of privately-owned forest land. The government, allegedly in the interest of conservation, has been paying a private land developer large sums of money in return for its agreement to not sell, divide or develop the land. At a time when real estate prices are taking a nosedive, it's a pretty sweet deal (for the developer, not the taxpayer): not only does the development company retain ownership of the land, but it continues to make money from logging the land.
What do studying pig odor, cricket control, tattoo removals or, for that matter, any of these projects have to do with keeping the government running? Nothing whatsoever. And how many out-of-work, struggling Americans are helped by them? Few, if any. As Michael Grunwald points out, earmarks are "a sneaky way for boondoggles to bypass hearings, public comment periods, cost-benefit analyses and other forms of scrutiny." Indeed, all our so-called representatives have succeeded in doing is representing their own self-interests. In the process, they are undermining everything America stands for and destroying our democratic government.
If the government cannot pass a bill without packing it full of inane projects, then the government has broken down. It doesn't work anymore. Grunwald was right: "Earmarks are the grimy political grease that helps our spending motor run. They're not completely innocuous -- $7.7 billion is real money -- but the real problem right now is the motor. It's as inefficient as Georgia blueberries."
It's up to President Obama to live up to his campaign promises and clean up this mess. He can start by holding firm to his pledge to take the pork out of government spending. We don't need vague promises to fix this problem in the future. The country's in trouble now.
And there is something "we the people" can do as well -- use our constitutional rights to protest and present our grievances to our representatives. If you're not already outraged and angry, then you'd better get mad. Those we've elected are not doing their jobs. Tell them what you think. Call, write, email and let them know you're watching them. And if you don't see some real change soon, during the next election cycle, throw them out of office.