Thursday, March 12, 2009

The 2% Solution.


     Earmarks are government funds that are allocated by a legislator for a particular pet project, often without proper review.
     Definitions vary, but on our site, we say earmarks are "allocations of revenue in a bill that are directed to a specific project or recipient typically in a legislator’s home state or district." The Office of Management and Budget defines them as congressional funds whose recipient has been specified without adherence to the "competitive allocation process."
     Earmarks appear in appropriation bills and authorization bills, legislation that authorizes the spending of government funds and the existence of programs. They can either be "hard" or "soft." When a bill allocates a specific amount to a project, it’s known as a hard earmark. When the amount isn’t specified, it’s called a soft earmark.
     There are a few groups that monitor earmarking in the U.S. Congress. The watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste produces the Congressional Pig Book, which is a yearly compilation (going back to 1991) of earmarks and "pork." CAGW counts as pork any spending project that meets at least one of the group's seven criteria, which include being awarded without competition or without a presidential request. 
     Another nonpartisan group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, has tracked earmarks for fiscal year 2008 and provides databases and analyses for appropriation bills, as well as reports on authorization bills. TCS maintains similar databases back to 2005, but they are only available by request.
     Previously, bills had to be scanned thoroughly to locate earmarks, but new regulations are making it easier to identify them and their sponsors. Members of the House must now claim their earmarks, identify what the money is for and who will benefit, and state that they have no financial interests in the earmarks. Senate members must make available a list of earmarks, their sponsors and governmental purposes, and post such information online within 48 hours of any vote on a bill.
     Summary: Numerous media outlets have devoted significant coverage to the earmarks contained in the omnibus appropriations bill (ed. note: now signed into law) even though, according to most estimates, earmarks constitute less than 2 percent of the total spending in the bill. In many instances, the media have allowed attacks by Sen. John McCain and other opponents of the omnibus bill to dominate their coverage of the legislation -- at times themselves characterizing the bill as laden with "pork."

No comments: