September 18, 2006
In fact, they are the means by which members of Congress pay back financial contributions to their campaigns or favors to them by companies or individuals. In return for these contributions, members change legislation to favor the interests of those companies or individuals. The cost to the taxpayer - as in, us - of these changes is in the millions of dollars, adding up to billions of dollars when the earmarks of legislation by up to 535 members of Congress are added on to various bills.
This practice got some of them into trouble, as the relationship between lobbyists' gifts to legislators and the legislators' taking care of the lobbyists' employers became revealed as out-and-out bribery. In March, Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a Republican from California, was sentenced to eight years in prison for taking millions in illegal payments from defense contractors. On Friday, Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican, finally pled guilty in federal court to charges that he accepted bribes and favors from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Elsewhere, federal authorities continue to investigate Rep. William J. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat found with $90,000 in cold cash in his freezer.
Based on these screaming cases, it seemed likely - particularly with congressional elections coming up in November - that Congress would seek to put some reforms in place on an urgent basis that would at least enable candidates for re-election to give the appearance of addressing some of the abuses that take place.
Guess again. The House tried to put into place modest reform in the shape of at least requiring members to put their names on the earmarks that they stick into bills. So far even that mouse of a measure has been blocked by fortuitous wrangling in the House.
Another more comprehensive but still relatively toothless bill is tied up between the House and the Senate, with prospects for passage this year weak. Again, the only interpretation that can be drawn is that the incumbent members of Congress believe that the voters will re-elect them in November no matter what they do.
The first step would be for
the current Congress to pass the reform legislation immediately.
The second step would be for the voters to decide that America
needs an entirely new team in Congress and vote against the incumbents
accordingly in November. Either way, the earmarks-for-cash game
needs to stop now. America can't afford it, and it's crooked.
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com