Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Earmarks Emerging from the Shadows

By almost any measure the 112th Congress was the least productive in several generations, perhaps in the history of the institution. According to a recent poll public approval of Congress is only 9%. Public Policy Polling "found that found is that Congress is less popular than cockroaches, traffic jams, and even Nickelback."

Wow. People would rather listen to Nickleback than watch Congress? That is pathetic.

These facts, combined with the beginning of the 113th Congress, have led several media outlets to look more closely at how Congress can improve its efficiency.

For some the answer is: Earmarks.

Over at Forbes, Rick Ungar links the failures of the last Congress to the decision to impose an earmark moratorium:

The moratorium on earmarks went into existence in February 2011. Since that time we have seen some of the greatest legislative fails in the history of the nation, highlighted by the debt ceiling fiasco of 2011, the inability to pass a jobs bill, an ever-increasing vacancy rate in the federal judiciary as one nominee after another is shelved and, of course, the current fiscal cliff clunker that might be the most embarrassing and damaging display of congressional incompetence of all.
NPR's All Things Considered ran a story asking "Could Reviving Earmarks Get Congress Going Again?" Quoting the ever-colorful former-Senator Alan Simpson highlights the fact that earmarks are a necessary component of the congressional process: 
 "[Lyndon Johnson] came up to Pop one time and said, 'Milward, what can I do for you? I need your vote ... surely you must have a dam or something out there you need in Wyoming,' " Simpson tells Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered. "I'm not talking about purity; I'm just talking about reality."
At Slate Matthew Iglesias points out that the fiscal cliff highlights the fact that earmarks help members of Congress make difficult decisions:

That’s not to say we should pine for a return to bribery and graft, but watching the prolonged fiscal cliff deadlock (and other Obama-era legislative battles) it was hard not to miss a little old-fashioned earmarking and pork.
We would be remiss (actually we would just be modest and who wants to be modest?) if we did not point out that we predicted from the beginning that the earmark moratorium would be damaging, and that we pointed out that the moratorium was an epic fail months ago.

Since the 113th Congress will also observe the earmark moratorium we predict continued dysfunction.

To be sure congressional dysfunction goes beyond the earmark moratorium (e.g., exceptionally high levels of ideological extremity and partisanship), but in the absence of the salve of earmarks there is little else to lessen the friction and allow Congress to do the people's work.

But at least people are talking openly about earmarks again, and that is a hopeful development.

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