Dateline: 08 February 2006
To understand one important element of the recent House leadership election, it is necessary to understand what an earmark is.
An earmark is a special clause inserted in bill – often a totally unrelated, but popular bill, such as support for Navy widows – that sets aside funds for specific purposes. The earmark is usually inserted by a powerful Congressman. Usually the money goes to a company or other organization in the Congressman’s district.
Of course, constitutionally, the purpose of appropriations bills is not to ensure the re-election of all incumbent congressmen. Nor is it to pay off people who donate money to a congressman’s re-election committee.
Rep John A. Boehner (R. Ohio) has been a powerful figure in Congress for some time. With more than a decade and a half’s service he has been a member of the majority leadership as Chairman of GOP Conference and, more recently, Chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee. He has had more opportunities than most to insert earmarks into bills. Yet, in 15 years’ service, he never has.
Under normal circumstances a candidate like Boehner would have stood no chance in the election against Chief Whip and acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt. Yet Boehner triumphed over Blunt, because circumstances are not normal. Boehner’s implicit claim of moral superiority over those congressmen of both parties who have thrown earmarks to their constituents like doggie treats is just the sort of thing that normally irritate other congressmen beyond measure.
But the Abramoff scandal has brought to everyone’s attention congressional practices that have been regarded as the norm for decades. The norm in Congress, is not what most Americans find acceptable. These practices do not pass the average American’s basic standards of integrity nor any reasonable reading of the Constitution.
What is needed is new leadership. The whole practice of earmarks needs to be abandoned. Pork and corporate welfare need to go with them. Protectionist tariffs and the whole complicated structure of corporate taxation should be thrown onto the bonfire. There is a clear need for openness and transparency in the relationship between Congress and lobbyists.
So far members of the Democrat leadership have shown that they don’t really understand what the fuss is about. What the Democrats want to do is turn the whole thing to partisan advantage. They are trying to pretend that earmarks, pork, and lobbying are Republican scandals, when it is perfectly obvious that they are congressional scandals. They long predate the Republican takeover of Congress after the elections of 1994.
It is just possible that the Republicans do get it. Electing Boehner was not the radical call for renewal that electing Shadegg would have been, but it is a clear signal that Republicans want to change Congress.
There is a long way to go. There is a lot of cleaning up to do in Washington. It is what Republicans were elected to do in 1994, and after a disastrous six-year diversion, there is a real chance that they are back on track.
Copyright © Quentin Langley 08 February 2006