In response to Tea Party agitation, the new Republican leaders in the House have been strutting around as reformers, coming across as suit-and-tie versions of that guy on the TV show, “Dirty Jobs.”
We’re going to clean up the place, they exclaim, starting with that big legislative stain called “earmarks.” No more secret diversions of taxpayers’ money into lawmakers’ pet porkbarrel projects, decreed the new House speaker, John Boehner. Posing as a reborn Mr. Clean, Boehner fairly sparkled at a press conference to announce that he was banning earmarks. So that’s that – mission accomplished, right?
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Uh… no. What the GOP has done is simply sweep earmarks under the rug. Take Sen. Mark Steven Kirk, for example. The Illinois Republican was a scathing critic of earmarks last year, even as he used his position on the appropriations committee to force the education department to funnel more than a million bucks of stimulus money into an Illinois school district. Sounds like an earmark, doesn’t it? But, technically, it wasn’t. Rather than directing the money to Illinois by way of the appropriation bill, he did it by way of a letter to the department. This is known to insiders like Kirk as “lettermarking.”
There’s also “phonemarking,” where the dirty deed is done by a phone call from a legislator to an agency head. Another slick move, called “accountmarking,” happens when a member pads the budget of a particular agency, then demands that the extra funds be spent on the member’s special project. All of these slick tricks add up to billions of tax dollars every year.
“Mr. Clean” wants our applause for a change that is nothing but a deceit. In an act of raw hypocrisy, Boehner has changed the name of the earmark game, but the scam remains the same. Now that really is a dirty job.
“Earmarks Ban May Loom, but Lawmakers Find Ways to Finance Pet Projects,” The New York Times, December 28, 2010.
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