Chicago Tribune: Commentary - Don't Reopen the Earmark Favor Factory 70_earmark_favor_factory

January 26, 2018 09:01 PM
By Adam Andrzejewski and Stephen Moore
Forget about our near-trillion-dollar annual budget deficits and our $20 trillion in national debt — pork is about to be back on the table in Washington.
We’re talking about the old-fashioned practice of stuffing special-interest pork barrel projects into federal spending bills. The practice is known as earmarking, and for decades it was the "currency of corruption" in Congress. Each year, hundreds of these projects — from teapot museums, to potato research, to studies on the mating habits of crabs — were inserted into spending bills, adding billions and even tens of billions to the taxpayer tab.
The process became such an epidemic that in 2005 there were 15,000 of these projects. In 2015, Republicans finally banned the process. Now, Congress is debating whether to resurrect these oinkers, and our Capitol Hill sources tell us that both parties want to grease the skids with bacon fat to get this done. It’s the fiscal equivalent of bringing back the swine flu.
Has Congress forgotten the cascade of earmark-related scandals that led to federal investigations or convictions? In 2002, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert bought up Illinois farmland for $15,000 per acre. Two years later, he inserted a $207 million earmark into the federal highway bill to construct roads near his new land. Four months after the bill was signed, Hastert's trust sold the land, and the speaker reaped millions.
A few years later, Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., went to jail after he tearfully confessed conspiring to pass out earmarks and pocketing $2.4 million in bribes, including a Rolls-Royce, a yacht and a 19th-century Louis-Philippe commode.
At a recent hearing on whether to bring back earmarks, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, even defended the infamous $200-million "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska — which would have served an island with a few hundred residents. He says the federal dollars belonged to Alaska and that "it should have been built. There’s never been a bridge anywhere that had anything on the other side until it was built." Yes — build it, and they will come.
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