Among the many federal budget issues being discussed these days is the fact that the federal fiscal year 2011 budget has not yet been passed. Considering the federal 2011 fiscal year started on October 1, that’s not such a good thing.
To address that delay, Congress has passed CR’s, or “Continuing Resolutions” to get the government the money it needs. Essentially that means funding for each federal agency and program continues at its current level until the new fiscal year budget (or a new CR) is passed.
With that discussion has come debate about how to handle “earmarks”. The name comes from the practice of making marks in the ears of animals – particularly pigs – to show ownership.
These become pieces of the federal budget that Members of Congress designate, or “earmark”, for particular projects. Many earmarked projects are highly worthwhile and a good investment of taxpayer money. Other projects have been more dubious in terms of their benefit to taxpayers. A number of projects have been associated with the lobbying scandals of recent memory. Unfortunately, all earmarked projects, worthy and unworthy, have been thus tainted with a bad name.
Republican House members have sworn off earmarks as a way to demonstrate fiscal integrity. Their counterparts in the Senate have not done so. Democrats made their own pronouncements regarding earmarks. No longer would they use them to fund for-profit organizations. Instead, they will limit their marks for nonprofit entities.
Roll Call recently reported that Appropriations Chairman David Obey offered a FY2011 budget without earmarks…per se. However, one man’s (or woman’s) earmark is another’s target. It’s all in the eye of the beholder. And Obey’s budget solution does little to do away with the debate over what constitutes an “earmark”.
Although the Garden State ranks near last in return on federal dollar, numerous nonprofits in New Jersey have successfully gained earmarks to help fund their programs. The Courier-Post ran an article and analysis of some of the state’s return through these congressionally-mandated funds.
Will earmarks ever go away? While it makes for high political theater to claim they will, the reality is that, since its beginning, Congress has directed funds for those projects, or programs, it has deemed most worthy. While much work needs to be done to ensure greater transparency in the process, it is unlikely that Congress will really give up its “power of the purse” and turn all funding decisions to the Executive Branch. Some say that silk purse is turning out to be a sow’s ear and filled with unnecessary spending.
Enjoy the debate!