Earmarks are lose-lose for taxpayers


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Earmarks are a very difficult part of the budget to understand. In fiscal 2010, $15.9 billion was spent on earmarks. Given the amount of funds that are spent on earmarks every year, and how most people have little to no idea where the money is going, it is evident that we need transparency concerning earmarks until they can be eliminated. One has to wonder why Congress is so opposed to illuminating something they claim is in the best interest of the taxpayers.

We like to believe that our elected officials are serving to the best of their ability and making decisions that are best for the citizens and taxpayers of this great country. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. When we look at the top ten recipients of earmarks in the Senate, we see that Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, is No. 5, with 194 earmarks that total more than $267.5 million. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, had 136 earmarks that totaled $161.2 million, which ranked him 20th overall.

Earmarks are a sign of how influential a member of Congress is. The No. 1 senator receiving earmarks, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., has 242 earmarks that total over $497.5 million. The second-highest recipient of earmarks is Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, with 158 earmarks that total almost $400 million. It is worth mentioning that Inouye is the head of the Appropriations Committee and Cochran is the vice chairman.

When it comes to the House of Representatives, no one from Iowa is in the top 10. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, is Iowa’s top recipient of earmarks in the House. Latham secured 54 earmarks by himself and with other members that totaled $66.1 million. Even the top representative for earmarks, Bill Young, R-Fla., had 63 earmarks totaling $128.5 million, less than one-third of the highest in the Senate. It is easy to see who is in control of the purse strings.

Overall, Iowa received 189 earmarks that totaled $163.9 million, which ranks us 24th in the nation. When we break this down per capita, the picture changes. Iowa received $54.51 per capita in fiscal 2010, which ranked us 16th. This number doesn’t seem as high when we compare Iowa with the top state per capita, Hawaii. With that state’s earmarks per capita is $318.26, it is fully on the “gravy train.”

So, with some of the “gravy train” coming to our state, why should we look at ending earmarks? The answer is simple.

The National Taxpayers Union best described the role of the earmark process in a press release from March “as a cesspool of wasteful spending and corruption.” Even President Obama has called for a ban on earmarks. During one of his addresses in November, he stated, “we can’t afford [earmarks]” and “these are items inserted into spending bills by members of Congress without adequate review.” The president summed up how many taxpayers feel with this statement: “When it comes to signaling our commitment to fiscal responsibility, addressing them would have an important impact.”

While earmarks are allowed to continue in any form, there will be winners and losers. But the biggest loser is the taxpayer; wherever the money is sent, all taxpayers will be paying the price. With the corruption we have seen in Congress because of earmarks, it is time to end them. Now that the House is back in session in the New Year, the House Republicans have a pledge to end earmarks.

Let’s hope that New Year’s Resolution lasts, and that we see some action from the Senate and Obama concerning this issue.

Jennifer L. Crull is an IT specialist at the Public Interest Institute, a nonprofit research group. These views are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Public Interest Institute.

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