The Contract From America—Agenda Item 9
The ninth item in the “Contract From America” (including the level of support it received in a voting process) is:
9. Stop the Pork
Place a moratorium on all earmarks until the budget is balanced, and then require a 2/3 majority to pass any earmark. (55.47%)
Earmarks—special instructions in spending legislation guiding federal dollars to representatives’ districts—are controversial. The Contract From America refers to them as “pork” because that’s what you get when elected representatives bring home the bacon.
Here at WashingtonWatch.com, we’ve been working on earmarks for a little while now. Last summer, we “crowdsourced” earmark data that Congress required its members to put on their web sites. We gathered data on over 40,000 earmark requests.
This year, we’ve started collecting earmark data again for the FY 2011 budget cycle. You can see what we’ve got so far on our earmarks page.
We also helped put together the Earmarkdata.org project to encourage Congress to be more transparent about earmarking.
Ban them entirely? That’s up to you.
Given the attention earmarks have gotten, House Republicans decided not to earmark at all this year, and House Democrats opted to earmark only for government entities and non-profit corporations. In the Senate it’s business as usual. The Contract would ban them until the budget is balanced, and then require them to be approved by a 2/3rds vote.
A number of bills have been introduced to address earmarks. One of our favorites—aimed at transparency—is S. 3335. It would require Congress to establish a “unified and searchable database on a public website for congressional earmarks.” It’s got broad bipartisan support.
There are many other bills in Congress to affect earmarks:
H.R. 113 would provide for audits of programs, projects, and activities funded through earmarks. S. 162 would require earmarks to be posted online for 48 hours before a vote on a bill containing them. H. Res. 85 and H. Res. 100 would amend congressional rules various ways to try to control earmarks.
But there are many more, including H.R. 1390, H. Res. 276, H.R. 1996, H.R. 2038, H. Res. 440, H.R. 2512, H. Res. 614, H.R. 3268, H. Res. 687, H. Con. Res. 201, H.R. 4560, S. 2990, H. Res. 1101, H. Res. 1147, H.R. 4831, H. Res. 1176, H. Res. 1221, H.R. 5258, and H. Res. 1289.
One of them—H. Res. 1177—would ban earmarks entirely.
The argument against banning earmarks is that Congress has the power of the purse—it should get to decide where the money goes. But with the big administrative government we’ve got, most people believe that contracts and grants should be awarded competitively, not doled out by the most powerful members of the House and Senate.