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How earmarks could have ended the budget stalemate so much sooner

01 Oct 2013

How earmarks could have ended the budget stalemate so much sooner

John-RogersA piece from Capstone’s John Rogers on the lack of bargaining chips in Congress and the effect on the ability to compromise. Follow him on LinkedIn.

The law of unintended consequences has as much to do with the mess that is playing itself out in Washington right now as anything else.

In 2010 Congress and the President decided that the Republic would be a better place if we did away with earmarks.  The “Bridge to Nowhere” became representative of any congressional budget addition in the country regardless of its merit.  Earmarks equaled evil in the bumper sticker world of politicians trying to be more sanctimonious than the other guy.

I’ve always thought that was crazy.  After all, every spending decision is made by someone somewhere, and every decision at the end of the day is an earmark.  So I’d rather have a portion of those decisions  be made by a representative who is closer to the people that I can either elect or not versus a faceless bureaucrat.  Not all earmarks were bad. Indeed many  were great, like the Patriot missile or the entire C130 cargo plane program or research for Parkinson’s disease or, here in Wisconsin, the extremely important Marquette interchange.

But in addition to doing away with valuable programs, the elimination of earmarks had a profoundly negative impact of the legislative process. Remember in the movie Lincoln, how the President and his lobbyists got the votes?  They got them by trading.  Trading jobs and projects and the infliction of political pain if the targets of their efforts didn’t play ball with them.  Speaker Boehner has nothing left to trade and nothing he can enforce with.  He can’t take away someone’s project in his or her district because there are no projects.  About the most he has to leverage are committee assignments.  Rather than carrots and sticks he’s got twigs and baby carrots to play with.

The system is profoundly altered and, as we are yet again seeing, not for the better.  Looking down the road, it is yet another reason to bring back earmarks so some semblance of a balance of power can return to the way too chaotic Capitol.

The views in this blog post represent the viewpoints of individual team members, not Capstone National Partners as a whole.

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