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House Creates Secret Earmarks After Banning Them

Earlier this year, the House Republicans touted the fact that they had taken a “no Earmarks” pledge. Five months into their tenure, it appears they’ve found at least one way around that ban:

The defense bill that just passed the House of Representatives includes a back-door fund that lets individual members of Congress funnel millions of dollars into projects of their choosing.

This is happening despite a congressional ban on earmarks — special, discretionary spending that has funded Congress’ pet projects back home in years past, but now has fallen out of favor among budget-conscious deficit hawks.

Under the cloak of a mysteriously-named “Mission Force Enhancement Transfer Fund,” Congress has been squirreling away money — like $9 million for “future undersea capabilities development,” $19 million for “Navy ship preliminary design and feasibility studies,” and more than $30 million for a “corrosion prevention program.”

So in a year dominated by demands for spending cuts, where did all the money come from?

Roughly $1 billion was quietly transferred from projects listed in the president’s defense budget and placed into the “transfer fund.” This fund, which wasn’t in previous year’s defense budgets (when earmarks were permitted), served as a piggy bank from which committee members were able to take money to cover the cost of programs introduced by their amendments.

Not surprisingly, this $1,000,000,000 went into the districts of several politically connected Congressman:

For example, that $9 million for “future undersea capabilities development” was requested by Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Connecticut, whose district happens to be home to General Dynamics Electric Boat, a major supplier of submarines and other technologies to the U.S. Navy.

And the $19 million for “Navy ship preliminary design and feasibility studies”? Rep. Steve Palazzo, R-Mississippi, asked for that. His district’s largest employer is Ingalls Shipbuilding — a major producer of surface combat ships for the Navy.

Nothing in these expenditures appears to be illegal, but critics say they still may violate the spirit, if not the language, of the earmark ban.

“These amendments may very likely duck the House’s specific definition of what constitutes an earmark, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t pork,” says Leslie Paige of Citizens Against Government Waste, a government-spending watchdog group. The group believes if modification of the National Defense Authorization Act generated savings, that money should have been put toward paying down the deficit.

This should be no surprise at all, of course. Within days after the House GOP Caucus voted on the earmarking ban, there were Members Of Congress looking for a way around the ban by basically calling an earmark anything other than an earmark. As I noted then, it was a pretty telling indication of just how pointless the earmarking ban really was:

It’s rank hypocrisy, really. First, Republicans try to claim their fiscal conservative bona fides with a purely symbolic and utterly pointless ban on earmarking. Then, after it passes, they turn around and redefine what an “earmark” is so that they can continue funneling money to their districts. It stands as proof not only of their own phoniness, but also of the fact that “earmarking” is part and parcel of a large government that spends a lot of money. No matter how you try to ban it, legislators will always find a way to get money and government to their district and their supporters. If you want it to stop, you have to stop it at the source, and that’s in the Federal Budget.

I hate to say I told you so (okay, I really don’t) but I told you so.

H/T: Vodkapundit

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. sam says:

    As American as apple pie.

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  2. Southern Hoosier says:

    Yep business as usual. When it comes to spending, there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans.

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  3. Hello World! says:

    There is a deifference. Democrats are more honest about their spending.

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  4. A voice from another precinct says:

    “No matter how you try to ban it, legislators will always find a way to get money and government to their district and their supporters. If you want it to stop, you have to stop it at the source, and that’s in the Federal Budget.”

    And how does THAT process work? Just how do you go about controlling a Federal budget with hundreds of billions of dollars of “off-budget” spending (such as the ongoing, and probably never-ending, war on terror)?

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  5. Barry says:

    Southern Hoosier says:

    “Yep business as usual. When it comes to spending, there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans.”

    I see a lot of Republicans trying to say that.

    I second ‘A voice from another precinct’. With probably a hundred billion dollars in secret fund sloshing around, there’s excellent opportunities to slide a few billion into whatever.

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  6. hey norm says:

    if you follow the logic of the “Path to Prosperity” and Medicare is still Medicare because it is called the same thing even though it is fundamentally changed…then Earmarks are not Earmarks because they are called something different even though the are the exact same thing. See?

    Having said that good on Joe Courtney for bringing home $9M for Electric Boat. Just because it’s an earmark doesn’t mean it’s a bad expenditure of money.

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  7. ratufa says:

    Doug, those aren’t “earmarks” They are things like “National Defense Priorities”:

    http://palazzo.house.gov/press-release/palazzo-secures-189-million-national-defense-priorities

    One funny thing about earmarks is that, for all the outrage some people have about them, the Congressmen who obtain them openly brag about them. In addition to the above, see for example,

    http://baselinescenario.com/2011/03/16/not-clear-on-the-concept/

    Or look at why John Murtha got re-elected year after year.

    The people in Congress understand their voters pretty well, given their re-election rates. It’s going to be very hard to have them give up one of the advantages of incumbency and eliminate earmarks. It may be better to just try to limit their growth and move on to more important issues

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