Robert Novak wrote recently about a minor skirmish over earmarks in Congress. The battle's not about whether or not Congress will continue to spend our money for political purposes -- remember the $315 million "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska -- but a battle as to who will get the most.
According to Novak's article, in the House of Representatives, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) regularly proposes amendments to remove earmarks from Interior and Financial Services bills. As you might expect, the House regularly votes these amendments down; this is money they've worked hard to spend.
But one earmark-removing amendment passed: a $129,000 grant to the Perfect Christmas Tree project in Mitchell County, North Carolina. In recent years the area has lost over 2500 textile, furniture and other manufacturing sector jobs to outsourcing. With entrepreneurial development as a primary focus, the project has created 30 individual small businesses. The project also serves as a scholarship tool, with a portion of royalties received from product sales used to fund a scholarship program is to combat the alarmingly low student retention rate at Mitchell High School, the only high school in the county.
The reason for the "cost-cutting" measure? The grant was requested by a young conservative, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who has fought to make earmarks more transparent, or open to public inspection. McHenry thought this relatively low-cost, relatively productive earmark of his own would sail through like all the others.
Instead, to quote Novak, "[the] amendment [to not fund McHenry's project] passed by a large margin, 249 to 174, with support from more than 140 Democrats who had never previously dreamed of voting against any earmark.
"The message was clear: Any member who opposes our corrupt system of favors and earmarks becomes persona non grata with the appropriations committee and his pork-barreling colleagues. It is, naturally, out of the question for such an uncooperative member to get his own earmarks. McHenry was humiliated but given a lesson on congressional power."
Congress no longer considers its job as passing effective legislation. They have become pork merchants, using our money to buy votes that they can't earn honestly. Anyone who tries to prevent them from spending our money is punished. Republicans and Democrats alike are sucked into this vile game, regardless of their good intentions when they first go to Washington D.C.
If ever there was an argument for term limits, this is it.