This month, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) penned a Politico op-ed calling for a ban on earmarks, saying they are the “poster child for Washington’s wasteful spending binges. They have been linked to corruption and scandal, and serve as a fuel line for the culture of spending that has dominated Washington far too long.” Many other House Republican leaders have also called for an end to earmarks: Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) has said he aims to “end earmarks as we know them.” A ban on earmarks is a controversial issue among House Republicans — it was conspicuously left out of the GOP’s “Pledge to America,” to the chagrin of conservative commentators.
There are also members of the caucus that oppose such a ban, like Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky. He defended earmarks in September, telling Politico that “there is obviously a need for a member to be able to come on out to the Congress for a particular need in his or her district that the regular order is not solving.” Rogers is no backbencher, however — he has long been discussed as being “in line” to take over the House Appropriations Committee, the place where earmarks originate. Now, he tells the Rural Blog that he has secured the votes necessary to assume the committee chairmanship.
Rogers defends earmarks because he’s very good at getting them. Rogers received over $431 million in earmarks just in fiscal years 2008-10, and has steered billions of dollars to his rural Kentucky district over the course of his career, making him one of the most prolific earmarkers in Congress. Many times, Rogers will create a non-profit in his district and then steer money to it, something that troubles government watchdogs:
“When we see a member of Congress using tax dollars to create such non-profit entities, we call it phony philanthropy,” said David Williams, vice president of policy for Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington-based group that tracks federal pork. “It’s easy to spend someone else’s money; it’s much harder to spend your own. If you set up a non-profit advocacy and they’re advocating a point of view, then every citizen is advocating that view whether they agree with it or not.”
One example among Rogers’ earmarks is Operation UNITE. Critics say that while the program, which was created by Rogers and is poised to receive roughly $13 million in earmarks to ramp up anti-drug initiatives, has been effective, UNITE focuses too heavily on law enforcement and arrests and doesn’t channel enough money into treatment and rehabilitation.
While Republican leaders and candidates on the campaign trail say they want to end earmark abuse — and even earmarks entirely — the task will be very difficult when a powerful Republican pork king assumes control of the committee that hands out earmarks.
(HT: Barefoot and Progressive)