Tag Archives: Earmarks

United States Capitol, July 2011

How earmarks pay off for the earmarkers

The case of a Kansas Congressman benefiting from earmark spending once out of office should make us glad the practice has ended, and we should be wary of those who call for its return.

The case of United States House of Representatives Appropriations Committee Member Todd Tiahrt and Neumann Systems is an illustration of the revolving door between government and the private sector. It started with an earmark. An Air Force budgetary document indicates that the earmark spending was at the direction of Congress: “In FY 2006, Congress added $1.2 million for the High Power Fiber Laser Program, and $0.5 million for Oxygen Laser Optical Source.”

Excerpt from Air Force budgetary document.
Excerpt from Air Force budgetary document.

Later in the same document we see “CONGRESSIONAL ADD.” So it’s not like the Air Force asked for this money. Instead, it was added by appropriators in the House of Representatives, of which Todd Tiahrt was a member and appropriator. The oxygen laser spending was an earmark, in other words. It went to a company called Direct Energy Solutions, located in Colorado Springs. Its CEO was David Neumann, who also heads a related company named Neumann Systems Group, Inc.

While this may seem like a small amount of federal money spent on a defense research project, the earmark spending appears to have paid off for Tiahrt. Not only did Tiahrt receive contributions from Neumann for his campaigns both past and present, he also received a client for his consulting firm and, ultimately, a job. When Neumann needed to recover from an illness, Tiahrt worked for Neumann’s company and was paid some $380,000 over two years, according to financial disclosures.

Neumann System Groups had received a contract to build an exhaust gas scrubber for an electrical power plant owned by the City of Colorado Springs. The scubber is controversial. In this article from January 2013, Tiahrt said the scubber would removs sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, but the scubber that is being built will remove only the sulfur compound. Costs seem to have soared over original estimates. The contract is “cost plus” and according to reporting, was awarded without competitive bid. (Costs, doubts rise at Colorado Springs power plant, Colorado Springs Gazette)

None of this was illegal or contrary to ethics codes. It’s just the way the way Washington has worked, with earmarks forging and cementing relationships between Members of Congress and their benefactors.

Earmarks have been banned in Congress since 2010. But not everyone is happy, with progressive lawmakers like Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois calling for the return of the “glue” that used to hold bills together. But the Wall Street Journal recently commented that Congress is working better without earmarks, resulting in more oversight of, and accountability for, spending.

As he campaigns for a return to Congress, Tiahrt has unabashedly called for a return of earmark spending, telling audiences that the practice did not increase the level of spending. There’s plenty of evidence, along with common sense, that tells us that earmarks do increase spending.

But some people think it’s fun to spend other peoples’ money, and as shown by the post-Congress career path of Todd Tiahrt, it can be lucrative, too.

Todd Tiahrt television advertisement.

Did Rep. Mike Pompeo vote to fund Obamacare?

A television ad by Todd Tiahrt claims that Mike Pompeo voted seven times to fund Obamacare. What are the facts about those bills?

Todd Tiahrt television advertisement.
Todd Tiahrt television advertisement.
The seven bills referenced in the Tiahrt ad are appropriations bills that fund numerous departments and agencies of the federal government. Three of the bills were to fund the operations of government for as little as one week. One bill was 475 pages in length. Most passed with broad support of Republicans, including the Kansas delegation. Some reduced funding that had been authorized by the previous Congress.

Somewhere deep within these bills there may be funding that went to the Department of Health and Human Services that in some way provided funds for the implementation of Obamacare. The first three votes were short-term measures to continue appropriations established by the previous Congress. Tiahrt voted with a minority of Republicans to support that bill in its original form, then voted along with all Republicans except one against the passage of the conference report.

As to whether voting for these bills constitutes voting “to fund Obamacare,” the Pompeo campaign manager told the Wichita Eagle: “This type of flawed logic would drive someone to believe that Mr. Tiahrt voted eight times for Planned Parenthood funding for federal funding of abortions — which would be grossly misleading.”

The Eagle further reported: “Pompeo’s campaign provided a list of those eight bills. A fact-check found Tiahrt did vote ‘yes’ on the bills. But those bills were also general appropriation measures for departments that dealt with family planning.”

Here are the bills referenced in the Tiahrt television advertisement.

H.J.Res. 44 (112th) votesH.J.Res. 44 (112th): Further Continuing Appropriations Amendments, 2011. This bill provided appropriations for several dozen federal agencies. It passed 335 to 91. Republicans voted 231 to 6 in favor. All Kansans voted in favor. The Hill described this bill as a “two-week spending resolution … to support a measure aimed at averting a government shutdown this week.” (GOP spending bill passes in landslide as 100 Dems defect)

H.J.Res. 48 (112th) votesH.J.Res. 48 (112th): Additional Continuing Appropriations Amendments, 2011. This bill provided appropriations for a number of federal agencies. It also eliminated specific spending that was approved in 2010. It passed 271 to 158. Republicans voted 186 to 54 in favor. All Kansans except Huelskamp voted in favor. The Hill described this bill as a “three-week spending resolution.” (House adjourns, likely until late March)

H.R. 1363 (112th) votesH.R. 1363 (112th): Further Additional Continuing Appropriations Amendments, 2011. As described by the Congressional Research Service, the bill “Provides reduced rates of operation for FY2011 for the following accounts or activities within the Department of Transportation (DOT).” It also provided funds at reduced rates of operation for FY2011 for some accounts within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It also appears to have eliminated some earmarks passed by an earlier Congress. This bill passed 247 to 181. Republicans voted 232 to 6 in favor. All Kansans voted in favor. Of this bill, The Hill reported it was “a bill that would fund the federal government for another week.” (House adopts rule for one-week budget stopgap)

H.R. 1473 (112th) votesH.R. 1473 (112th): Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011. This is a large bill at 175 pages in length. The summary from the Congressional Research Service runs nearly 20,000 words. It passed 260 to 167. Republicans voted 179 to 59 in favor. All Kansans except Huelskamp voted in favor. This bill, voted on in April, was described by The Hill as “an agreement to fund the federal government for the rest of fiscal 2011.” The federal fiscal year ends on September 30.

H.R. 2055 (112th) on passage votesH.R. 2055 (112th) conference report votesH.R. 2055 (112th): Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012. At 486 pages, another large bill making appropriations for many agencies. On passage of the bill in the House, the vote was 411 to 5 in favor. The later vote on agreeing to the conference report passed 296 to 121. Republicans voted 147 to 86 in favor. All Kansans except Huelskamp voted in favor. The Hill reported this bill “covers spending for Defense, Energy and Water, Financial Services and General Government, Homeland Security, Interior, Labor/Health and Human Services, Legislative Branch, Military Construction/VA, and State/Foreign Operations.” (House approves $1 trillion omnibus spending bill in easy 296-121 vote)

H.J.Res. 117 (112th) votesH.J.Res. 117 (112th): Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2013. This bill provided appropriations for a number of federal agencies. It passed 329 to 91. Republicans voted 165 to 70 in favor. Kansans Huelskamp and Yoder voted against; Jenkins and Pompeo voted in favor. The Hill described this bill as a “six-month spending resolution to keep the government funded.” (Senate passes resolution to keep government funded)

H.R. 933 (113th) votesH.R. 933 (113th): Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013. A 240 page bill that provides appropriates to many federal agencies. The House agreed to the conference report by a vote of 318 to 109. Republicans voted 203 to 27 in favor. All Kansans except Huelskamp voted in favor.

Detail of stairway in Kansas Capitol.

Kansas was an earmark donor state

The practice of federal earmark spending was not kind to Kansas, as data shows Kansas was an earmark donor state.

Detail of stairway in Kansas Capitol.
Detail of stairway in Kansas Capitol.
The former practice of earmarking federal spending was seen as a way for members of Congress to demonstrate their political prowess by bringing the federal bacon back home to the district or state. Data gathered and analyzed by Brandon Arnold of Cato Institute shows that states differ greatly in the dollars sent to Washington as federal income taxes and the earmarks received.

Data for 2009, one of the last years for earmarking, along with Arnold’s calculations of a earmark ratio, shows that the value of this ratio varies from 25 percent to 1,104 percent. This ratio is calculated by first determining the proportion of total federal income taxes paid by a state. Use that to calculate the state’s proportional share of earmark dollars. Then, compare to earmarks actually received.

For 2009, the earmark ratio for Kansas was 81.9 percent. Based on the state contributing 0.9 percent of total federal taxes paid, Kansas should have received $173 million in earmarks. It actually received $142 million.

Arnold’s article contains other interesting find, such as comparing a state’s earmark ratio with it having members on appropriations committees.

I’ve presented Arnold’s data in an interactive spreadsheet. View the data below, or click here to open it in a new window, which may work best in most cases. This is a spreadsheet in Google Docs format. You may manipulate and save the data as your own copy.

United States Capitol, July 2011

Congress is better without earmarks

Controversy over the timing and efficacy of an earmark divert attention from the fact that earmarks are bad government. Congress is better without the practice.

United States Congressional candidate Todd Tiahrt calls for a return to earmark spending in Congress, pointing to a million-dollar grant he obtained for Wichita to help defray costs of the Wichita Police Department in investigating and capturing serial killer Dennis Rader, or BTK. The Daily Caller has a report, as does the Wichita Eagle. Neither story is supportive of Tiahrt’s claim that earmarks were responsible for the capture of the BTK killer.

Speaking to the Wichita Pachyderm Club on May 16, Tiahrt defended the earmarking process, telling the audience “By the way, earmarks don’t raise spending. Earmarks never increase the budget. They simply redirect the funding.” (The complete broadcast of his talk is available at Voice for Liberty Radio: Todd Tiahrt.)

United States Capitol, July 2011
United States Capitol, July 2011
This is the standard argument: Earmarks simply direct the spending of money that is already authorized to be spent. Therefore, earmarking does not increase the amount spent. But this reasoning bypasses the fact that it is Congress that authorizes a certain amount to be spent. If Congress is concerned that too much is being spent, it could authorize less.

This notion that discretionary spending is on a trajectory that can’t be controlled; that all a hapless Congress can do is control where it is spent by earmarking: This is nonsense. Nonsense on stilts. Some of the problems with earmark spending are contained in For Tiahrt, earmarks are good government.

Logrolling, or the selling of earmarks

Many Members of Congress sell earmarks to the home district as a beneficial way to have the country as a whole to pay for our needs. It’s usually presented as though it is free money. Taxpayers across the country are paying for something in the home district, members say.

But as most people know in their hearts, there really is no free lunch. If Members of Congress expect other members to vote for their earmarks, they know they’re expected to vote for the earmarks of other members. This is precisely what happens.

The BTK earmark happened in 2005. In 2007 a group of House Members offered 50 amendments to remove earmarks from appropriations bills. Club for Growth compiled the following list, along with a scorecard of votes for each member. I’ve presented the list of amendments below, and you can view the project at The 2007 Club for Growth RePORK Card. It includes items like $150,000 for the Bremerton Public Library restoration in Washington, $129,000 for the Mitchell County Development Foundation for the home of the “perfect Christmas tree” project, and $100,000 for the Kansas Regional Prisons Museum in Lansing.

So two years after the BTK earmark for the Wichita Police Department, there were 50 opportunities for our representatives to make a simple up-or-down vote on wasteful pork barrel spending projects. Only one of these amendments passed.

Todd Tiahrt voted against all of these amendments. He, along with 81 Democrats and 23 other Republicans, could find no good reason to vote against any of these projects.

So while Wichita received help paying for a police investigation, we in the fourth congressional district had to pay for all these other projects. After all, how could Tiahrt ask his congressional colleagues to support his own earmarks if he did not support theirs?

Congress is better without earmarks

While there has been a ban on earmarks since 2010, some members and candidates call for a return to earmarking. But a recent Wall Street Journal editorial explains the benefit of the ending of earmarks and a return to accountability in legislative decision-making:

Congressional cries to restore earmarks are mounting, and a new favorite argument is that the spenders need the pork authority to properly exercise their Constitutional power of the purse. But if you look at what’s happening inside Congress, the opposite is true: The earmark ban is producing more spending accountability and oversight. … When Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin now pines for the days when earmarks were the “glue” holding bills together, what he’s really missing is leadership’s power to dole out home-state patronage. Pork-barrel Republicans who say the earmark ban has transferred spending power to the President are excusing their own unwillingness to set priorities. … This process put House Members in control of spending decisions, even as it required them to choose on the basis of fact and analysis — rather than logrolling.

(“Logrolling” is the practice of supporting others’ projects in order to gain support for yours. Vote trading, in other words.)

At the same May 2014 Pachyderm Club meeting, Tiahrt said that earmark spending is still happening, but now it’s directed through the executive branch. Congress has given President Obama a “blank check,” Tiahrt told the audience. The Wall Street Journal editorial board disagrees.

Following is the list of 50 amendments that would have canceled pork barrel spending projects in 2007.

House Vote 559 — Bars funding of $150,000 for the Clover Bend Historic Site in Arkansas. Amendment failed, 98-331.

House Vote 560 — Bars funding of $100,000 for the St. Joseph’s College Theatre Renovation in Indiana. Amendment failed, 97-328.

House Vote 561 — Bars funding of $150,000 for the Maverick Concert Hall preservation in New York. Amendment failed, 114-316.

House Vote 562 — Bars funding of $150,000 for the Bremerton Public Library restoration in Washington. Amendment failed, 98-333.

House Vote 565 — Bars funding of $140,000 for the Wetzel County Courthouse in West Virginia. Amendment failed, 104-323.

House Vote 566 — Bars funding of $150,000 for equipment for the Conte Anadromous Fish Laboratory. Amendment failed, 97-330.

House Vote 567 — Bars funding of $150,000 for the W.A. Young and Sons Foundry in Pennsylvania. Amendment failed, 104-328.

House Vote 568 — Bars funding of $100,000 for the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters to renovate a hall in Ohio. Amendment failed, 66-364.

House Vote 569 — Bars funding of $1,200,000 for projects related to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Route. Amendment failed, 86-343.

House Vote 590 — Bars funding of $231,000 for the Grace Johnstown Area Regional Industries Incubator and Workforce Development program in Pennsylvania. Amendment failed, 87-335.

House Vote 591 — Bars funding of $500,000 for a project in the Barracks Row area of Washington, D.C. Amendment failed, 60-361.

House Vote 592 — Bars funding of $231,000 for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association’s SPUR urban center. Amendment failed, 102-317.

House Vote 593 — Bars funding of $129,000 for the Mitchell County Development Foundation for the home of the “perfect Christmas tree” project. Amendment passed, 249-174.

House Vote 594 — Bars funding of $231,000 for the West Virginia University Research Corporation’s renovation of a small-business incubator. Amendment failed, 101-325.

House Vote 595 — Bars funding of $231,000 for the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission. Amendment failed, 107-318.

House Vote 597 — To remove 148 requested earmarks from the bill. Amendment failed, 48-372.

House Vote 636 — Bars funding of $1,000,000 for the Center for Instrumented Critical Infrastructure in Pennsylvania. Amendment failed, 98-326.

House Vote 637 — Bars funding of $1,500,000 for the South Carolina Historically Black Colleges and Universities Science and Technology Initiative. Amendment failed, 70-357.

House Vote 638 — Bars funding of $500,000 for the Emmanuel College Center for Science Partnership in Massachusetts. Amendment failed, 79-337.

House Vote 639 — Bars funding of $1,000,000 for nano-structured fuel cell membrane electrode assembly in California. Amendment failed, 81-348.

House Vote 640 — Strikes numerous earmarks from the bill. Amendment failed, 39-388.

House Vote 654 — Bars funding of $34,000,000 for the Alaska Native Education Equity program and other programs. Amendment failed, 74-352.

House Vote 663 — Strikes all earmarks in the bill. Amendment failed, 53-369.

House Vote 664 — Bars funding of $300,000 for its Bay Area Science Teacher Recruitment, Retention and Improvement Initiative. Amendment failed, 89-341.

House Vote 667 — Bars funding of $300,000 for the On Location Entertainment Industry Craft and Technician Training project at West Los Angeles College in Culver City, CA. Amendment failed, 114-316.

House Vote 668 — Bars funding of $150,000 for the American Ballet Theatre in New York City for educational activities. Amendment failed, 118-312.

House Vote 669 — Bars funding of $150,000 for the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston, S.C. Amendment failed, 70-360.

House Vote 670 — Bars funding of $100,000 for the Kansas Regional Prisons Museum in Lansing, Kan. Amendment failed, 112-317.

House Vote 671 — Bars funding of $200,000 for the Corporation for Jefferson’s Popular Forest in Forest, VA. Amendment failed, 68-360.

House Vote 678 — Bars funding of $2,000,000 for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York in New York City. Amendment failed, 108-316.

House Vote 679 — Bars funding of $200,000 for the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, MO. Amendment failed, 96-327.

House Vote 698 — Bars funding of $300,000 for the Belmont Complex in Kittanning, PA. Amendment failed, 87-335.

House Vote 699 — Bars funding of $400,000 for the North Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission in Wausau, WI. Amendment failed, 68-356.

House Vote 700 — Bars funding of $50,000 for the National Mule and Packers Museum in Woodlake, CA. Amendment failed, 69-352.

House Vote 701 — Bars funding of $300,000 for the Friends of Cheat Rails-to-Trails Program in West Virginia. Amendment failed, 81-342.

House Vote 702 — Bars funding of $300,000 for the Houston Zoo in Texas. Amendment failed, 77-347.

House Vote 705 — Bars funding of $150,000 for the Edmonds Center for the Arts in Edmonds, WA. Amendment failed, 97-327.

House Vote 706 — Bars funding for “parking facilities”. Amendment failed, 86-338.

House Vote 735 — Bars funding of $200,000 for the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine in Orono, Maine. Amendment failed, 87-328.

House Vote 736 — Bars funding of $250,000 for the East Coast Shellfish Research Institute in Toms River, NJ. Amendment failed, 77-337.

House Vote 809 — Bars funding of $878,046 for the Catfish Pathogen Genomic Project in Auburn, AL. Amendment failed, 74-357.

House Vote 810 — Bars funding of $628,843 for grape genetics research in Geneva, NY. Amendment failed, 76-353.

House Vote 811 — Bars funding of $400,000 for the alternative uses of a tobacco grant in Maryland. Amendment failed, 94-337.

House Vote 812 — Bars funding of $489,000 for Ruminant Nutrition Consortium in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. Amendment failed, 74-355.

House Vote 813 — Bars funding of $6,371,000 for the wood utilization grant in Mississippi, North Carolina, Minnesota, Maine, Michigan, Idaho, Tennessee, Arkansas and West Virginia. Amendment failed, 68-363.

House Vote 839 — Bars funding of $2,500,000 for the Presidio Trust national park in San Francisco, CA. Amendment failed, 94-311.

House Vote 842 — Bars funding of $2,000,000 for the “Paint Shield for Protecting People from Microbial Threats.” Amendment failed, 91-317.

House Vote 843 — Bars funding of $1,500,000 for the Doyle Center for Manufacturing Technology in Pittsburgh, PA. Amendment failed, 98-312.

House Vote 844 — Bars funding of $3,000,000 for the Lewis Center for Education Research in Apple Valley, CA. Amendment failed, 57-353.

House Vote 845 — Bars funding of $39,000,000 for the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, PA. Amendment failed, 109-301.

Quasi-lobbyist runs as earmarker in Kansas GOP primary

Quasi-lobbyist runs as earmarker in Kansas GOP primary

Washington Examiner writer Tim Carney notices the curious stance of a Republican candidate in the Kansas fourth district primary: He likes earmarks.

Washington Examiner senior political columnist Timothy P. Carney knows how Washington works. Of his 2006 book The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money, Paul A. Gigot, who is Editorial Page Editor of the Wall Street Journal wrote “Politicians like to say that government is on the side of the little guy. But with impressive documentation and persuasive examples, Tim Carney shows how government power and regulation are typically used to assist the powerful.”

On the contest in the Kansas fourth district between Mike Pompeo and Todd Tiahrt, Carney observed “Kansas’s 4th District features one of the oddest fights yet of the counter-Tea Party effort: a quasi-lobbyist running running on a pro-earmark platform.”

Quasi-lobbyist runs as earmarker in Kansas GOP primaryCarney isn’t the first to notice the pro-earmark stance of Tiahrt. It’s not a secret, as the candidate himself speaks in favor of earmarks. His voting record reflects his support. In 2007 Club for Growth, whose motto is “Prosperity and Opportunity through Economic Freedom,” compiled a list of 50 votes that canceled what it called wasteful earmarks, explaining as follows:

The Club for Growth has compiled a RePORK Card of all members’ votes on all 50 anti-pork amendments. “Taxpayers have a right to know which congressmen stand up for them and which stand up for the special interests,” said Club for Growth President Pat Toomey. “Unfortunately, the Club for Growth RePORK Card shows that most congressmen care more about lining their buddies’ pockets than they care about protecting American taxpayers.”

Analyzing the results, Club for Growth noted that 16 members voted for all these amendments. These members were all Republicans. The average Republican score was 43%. The average Democratic score was 2%. The average score for appropriators — these are members of the Committee on Appropriations like Tiahrt — was 4%.

Where was Todd Tiahrt on this list? Tied for last place at 0%. He voted for none of these amendments that would have blocked earmark spending. Of the group that Tiahrt voted with, Club for Growth noted “105 congressmen scored an embarrassing 0%, voting against every single amendment. The Pork Hall of Shame includes 81 Democrats and 24 Republicans.”

Club for Growth created a similar tally in 2009, selecting 68 votes. That year, Tiahrt did better, voting for 20 of the 68 measures.

Quasi-lobbyist runs as earmarker in Kansas GOP primary

By Timothy P. Carney, Washington Examiner

Former Rep. Todd Tiahrt is a man on a mission — to reclaim the Republican Party for earmarkers.

Tiahrt represented Kansas’ 4th district for 16 years, and for 14 of those years he sat on the House Appropriations Committee. From that perch, Tiahrt was a prolific porker, dealing out earmarks as if they were playing cards.

Continue reading at Quasi-lobbyist runs as earmarker in Kansas GOP primary.

For Kansas Senator Roberts, earmark reform not worthy of his vote

Kansas Senator Pat Roberts promotes his fiscal conservatism, but failed to vote in favor of earmark reform in a recent close vote.

In 2012 an amendment to a Senate bill was offered that would have dramatically reformed the earmark process.

United States Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas.
United States Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas.
The vote was On the Amendment S.Amdt. 1472 to S.Amdt. 1470 to S. 2038 (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012).

The purpose of the amendment, according to Congress.gov, is “to prohibit earmarks.” Although offered in 2012, the short title of the amendment was “Earmark Elimination Act of 2011″

United States Senator from Kansas Pat Roberts voting with Democrats and against Republicans on earmark reform. 2012.
United States Senator from Kansas Pat Roberts voting with Democrats and against Republicans on earmark reform. 2012.
The nub of the amendment was “It shall not be in order in the Senate to consider a bill or resolution introduced in the Senate or the House of Representatives, amendment, amendment between the Houses, or conference report that includes an earmark.”

The amendment was rejected by a vote of 59 to 40. Among Democratic Party members, the vote was 44 to 7 against the amendment. For Republican Party members, the vote was 33 to 13 in favor of the amendment.

One of the 13 Republicans who voted against this reform-minded amendment was Pat Roberts of Kansas.

A referendum on earmarks

From The Weekly Standard, analysis of the primary contest in Kansas district 4, where Mike Pompeo and Todd Tiahrt are candidates.

‘Earmark Distribution Agency,’ dealer of pork, proposed for elimination

From the office of United States Representative Mike Pompeo, an example of Rep. Pompeo opposing corporate and business welfare that benefits a few parties at detriment to the rest of the economy. Video of Pompeo speaking on the floor of the House on this matter is here, or below.

Congressman Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, offered an amendment to H.R. 4660, the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2015, to eliminate the Economic Development Administration (or the “Earmark Distribution Agency”). The amendment would send EDA’s total funding — $247 million in FY 2015 — to the Deficit Reduction Account, saving up to $2.5 billion over 10 years based on current levels.

“We need to solve America’s debt crisis before it is too late, and that means reducing wasteful spending, no matter the agency or branch of government,” said Rep. Pompeo. “The EDA should be called the ‘Earmark Distribution Agency,’ as it continues to spend taxpayer dollars on local pet projects in a way similar to congressional earmarks — which have already been banned by the House.” Examples of the “Earmark Distribution Agency” spending taxpayer dollars wastefully:

    Harry Reid Research Park
  • In 2008, the EDA provided $2,000,000 to begin construction of the UNLV Harry Reid Research and Technology Park in Las Vegas, NV. Currently the UNLV Harry Reid Research & Technology Park features a paved road and a website claiming the first anticipated tenant would move in in 2010. (There’s nothing there.)
  • In 2010, $25,000,000 was spent by the EDA for a Global Climate Mitigation Incentive Fund and $2,000,000 for a “culinary amphitheater,” wine tasting room and gift shop in Washington State.
  • In 2011, the EDA gave a New Mexico town $1,500,000 to renovate a theater.
  • In 2013, the EDA also gave Massachusetts $1.4 million to promote new video games.
  • Back in the 1980s, the EDA used taxpayer dollars to build replicas of the Great Wall of China and the Egyptian Pyramids in the middle of Indiana. They were never completed—it is now a dumping ground for tires.

Rep. Pompeo concluded: “EDA has for too long been the dumping ground for taxpayer money. The road to America’s return to fiscal sanity starts with abolishing this agency.

Ending the Economic Development Administration

economic-development-administration

If you think a proper function of the federal government is spending your tax dollars to build replicas of the Great Pyramids in Indiana or a gift shop in a winery, you’re not going to like legislation introduced by U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo, a Republican who represents the Kansas fourth district, including the Wichita metropolitan area.

Others, however, will appreciate H.R. 887: To terminate the Economic Development Administration, and for other purposes. In the following article from last year, Pompeo explains the harm of the Economic Development Administration, which he describes as a “politically motivated federal wealth redistribution agency.” Pompeo had introduced similar legislation last year, and this bill keeps the effort alive in the new Congress.

In his article from last year Pompeo mentions the trip by Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fernandez to Wichita. Since then, Fernandex has moved on to the private sector, working for a law firm in a role that seems something like lobbying.

For more background on this agency, see Economic Development Administration at Downsizing the Federal Government.

End the Economic Development Administration — Now

By U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo, January, 2012

As part of my efforts to reduce the size of government, I have proposed to eliminate the Economic Development Administration (EDA), a politically motivated federal wealth redistribution agency. Unsurprisingly, the current leader of that agency, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fernandez, has taken acute personal interest in my bill to shutter his agency.

Last week, Secretary Fernandez invited himself to Wichita at taxpayer expense and met with the Wichita Eagle’s editorial board. Afterwards, the paper accurately noted I am advocating eliminating the EDA even though that agency occasionally awards grant money to projects in South Central Kansas. They just don’t get it. Thanks to decades of this flawed “You take yours, I’ll take mine” Washington logic, our nation now faces a crippling $16 trillion national debt.

I first learned about the EDA when Secretary Fernandez testified in front of my subcommittee that the benefits of EDA projects exceed the costs and cited the absurd example of a $1.4 million award for “infrastructure” that allegedly helped a Minnesota town secure a new $1.6 billion steel mill. As a former CEO, I knew there is no way that a taxpayer subsidy equal to less than one-tenth of one percent (0.1%) of the total capital needed made a difference in launching the project. That mill was getting built whether EDA’s grant came through or not. So, I decided to dig further.

I discovered that the EDA is a federal agency we can do without. Similar to earmarks that gave us the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” or the Department of Energy loan guarantee scandal that produced Solyndra, the EDA advances local projects that narrowly benefit a particular company or community. To be sure, the EDA occasionally supports a local project here in Kansas. But it takes our tax money every year for projects in 400-plus other congressional districts, many if not most of which are boondoggles. For example: EDA gave $2 million to help construct UNLV’s Harry Reid Research and Technology Park; $2 million for a “culinary amphitheater,” tasting room, and gift shop at a Washington state winery; and $500,000 to construct (never-completed) replicas of the Great Pyramids in rural Indiana.

Several times in recent decades, the Government Accountability Office has questioned the value and efficacy of the EDA. Good-government groups like Citizens Against Government Waste have called for dismantling the agency. In addition, eliminating the EDA was listed among the recommendations of President Obama’s own bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission.

So why hasn’t it been shut down already? Politics. The EDA spreads taxpayer-funded project money far and wide and attacks congressmen who fail to support EDA grants. Soon after that initial hearing, Secretary Fernandez flew in his regional director — again at taxpayer expense — to show me “all the great things we are doing in your home district” and handed me a list of recent and pending local grants. Hint, hint. You can’t say I wasn’t warned to back off. Indeed, Eagle editors missed the real story here: Secretary Fernandez flew to Wichita because he is a bureaucrat trying to save his high-paying gig. The bureaucracy strikes back when conservatives take on bloated, out-of-control, public spending, so I guess I’m making progress.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not faulting cities, universities, or companies for having sought “free” federal money from the EDA. The fault lies squarely with a Washington culture that insists every program is sacred and there is no spending left to cut.

A federal agency run at the Assistant Secretary level has not been eliminated in decades. Now is the time. My bill to eliminate the EDA (HR 3090) would take one small step toward restoring fiscal sanity and constitutional government.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday May 2, 2012

When government pays, government controls. Although most liberals would not admit this, it sometimes slips through: When government is paying for our health care, government then feels it must control our behavior. The Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman provides an example of this, when she wrote in a blog post about Kansas relaxing its smoking ban: “Especially with Medicaid costs swallowing up the state budget, lawmakers should be discouraging smoking, not accommodating more of it.”

The moral case for capitalism. “Two main charges are typically marshaled against capitalism: it generates inequality by allowing some to become wealthier than others; and it threatens social solidarity by allowing individuals some priority over their communities. … Capitalism does allow — and perhaps even requires — inequality. Because people’s talents, skills, values, desires, and preferences vary and because of sheer luck, some people will be able to generate more wealth in a free-enterprise system than others will; inequality will result. But it is not clear that we should worry about that. … If you could solve only one social ill — either inequality or poverty — which would it be? Or suppose that the only way to address poverty would be to allow inequality: Would you allow it? … More by James R. Otteson in An Audacious Promise: The Moral Case for Capitalism at the Manhattan Institute.

Moran to address Pachyderms. This Friday (May 4th) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features United States Senator Jerry Moran speaking on “A legislative update.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. … The club has an exceptional lineup of future speakers as follows: On May 11th: Gary Oborny, Chairman/CEO Occidental Management and Real Estate Development, CCIM Designated member of the Storm Water Advisory Board to the City of Wichita, speaking on “What is the economic impact of EPA mandates on storm water quality in Wichita?” … On May 18th: Paul Soutar, Reporter for Kansas Watchdog, speaking on “The evolution of journalism and how the new media empowers citizens.” … On May 25th: Ron Estes, State Treasurer of Kansas, speaking on “A report from the Kansas Treasurer.”

Funding pet projects without earmarks. Wonderful! While this plan still relies on government to some degree, it is largely voluntary, which is the direction we need to steer things. “There is a creative workaround that allows funds to flow to those prized pet projects: a commemorative coin bill.” Read more at Heritage Action for America.

Harm of taxes. In introducing the new edition of Rich States, Poor States, authors Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore explain the importance of low taxes. “Barack Obama is asking Americans to gamble that the U.S. economy can be taxed into prosperity. That’s the message of his campaign for the Buffett Rule, which raises income-tax rates on millionaires to a minimum of 30%, and for the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. He wants to raise the highest income tax rate by 20%, double the rate on capital gains, add a new 3.8% tax on all capital earnings, and nearly triple the dividend tax rate. All this will enhance “economic efficiency,” insists a White House economic report. As for those who disagree, says President Obama, they’re just pushing “the same version of trickle-down economics tried for much of the last century. … But prosperity sure didn’t trickle down.” Mr. Obama needs a refresher course on the 1920s, 1960s, 1980s and even the 1990s, when government spending and taxes fell and employment and incomes grew rapidly.” More in the Wall Street Journal at Laffer and Moore: A 50-State Tax Lesson for the President: Over the past decade, states without an income levy have seen much higher growth than the national average. Which state will be next to abolish theirs?

Role of prices. Prices convey information more accurately and efficiently than any centralized organization — such a government. It provides a, well, automatic mechanism for adjusting to the changes in the world, changes which happen every day, and even every minute. Sometimes we may not like the information that price signals are sending, but they represent the truth. Daniel J. Smith of Troy University explains in this video from LearnLiberty.org, a project of the Institute for Humane Studies: “Why are prices important? Prof. Daniel J. Smith of Troy University describes the role that prices play in generating, gathering, and transmitting information throughout the economy. Information about the supply and demand of different goods are dispersed among different buyers and sellers in an economy. Nobody has to know all this dispersed information; individuals only need to know the relative prices. Based on the simple information contained in a price, people adjust their behavior to account for conditions in supply and demand, even if they are unaware of that information.”

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Tuesday April 3, 2012

Arts funding. For a view of government arts funding from an actual artist, please read The Government, art funding and Sam Brownback in KS by Christopher Allen. He makes an important point: “The government not paying for you to make something is NOT censorship.” I haven’t heard government arts funding advocates use the “censorship” word yet, but you can tell it’s on the minds of those who feel they should be receiving taxpayer money to support their work. … Allen also draws attention the incredible freedoms we in America and the free world enjoy regarding art: “If you want to make art, nobody’s stopping you. In some countries of the world, you get beheaded for making art that others disapprove of.”

Arts censorship. I thought that no one in Kansas had used the “Censorship” word regarding government funding of arts, but I now realize I spoke too soon. Reporting on a recent visit by Rocco Landesman, National Endowment for the Arts Chairman, the Lawrence Journal-World reported: “Kevin Willmott, a KU film professor, asked Landesman if he was concerned about what Willmott called ‘corporate censorship’ of the arts, saying if a movie he created wasn’t perceived as being able to make money it wouldn’t get seen. Landesman replied with a line that drew applause from the audience. ‘The reason we have public funding of the arts, and the reason we have the NEA at all, is so the marketplace is not the sole determinant of what is seen and what is excellent,’ he said.” … I think Wilmott ought to be more concerned that the people of Kansas will continue to fund university film departments at the same time our universities are having trouble producing graduates equipped for a modern economy.

Comparison of state comparisons. There are a number of studies that have ranked the states based on economic competitiveness. Emily Washington of the has looked at three reports produced by organizations that favor free markets and reports on the differences. Included are State Business Tax Climate Index by Kail M. Padgitt of The Tax Foundation, Rich States, Poor States: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index from American Legislative Exchange Council, and Freedom in the Fifty States: An Index of Personal and Economic Freedom from Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Washington’s report is at A Comparison of Indices that Rank State Economic Competitiveness.

Ryan tax plan. Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards comments: “The goal is to simplify the tax code and spur economic growth, and you can do that without changing the total revenue raised or who it is raised from. Ryan’s strategy is to eliminate tax deductions and credits while replacing the current six-rate income tax structure with two rates of 10 and 25 percent. The result would be less tax paperwork, more jobs and more investment, which would be good for everybody. Liberals rail against the idea of cutting the top income tax rate from the current 35 percent, but Ryan’s lower 25 percent rate was not picked out of thin air. IRS data show that taxpayers with the highest incomes currently pay an average of about 25 percent of their income in income taxes. At the same time, middle-income taxpayers pay an average of roughly 10 percent. That is why Ryan’s two-rate tax structure of 10 and 25 percent would collect about the same amount of money from the same income groups as the current code if we got rid of the deductions and credits.” See The Truth about Paul Ryan’s Tax Plan.

Are earmarks returning? “After just 14 months at the levers of power of the House, it appears that some House Republicans are ready to admit that they have been unsuccessful in kicking their spending addictions. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) is suggesting to House Republicans that the ban on earmarking be lifted so that members of Congress could ‘grease the wheels’ of legislation in an effort to pass bills faster. The ban was put in place shortly after Republicans, backed heavily by Tea Party conservatives calling for more fiscal responsibility in Congress, won the majority in the House during the Fall 2010 midterm elections. The ban is set to automatically expire at the end of this session of Congress at the end of the year. Bill Wilson, President of Americans for Limited Government, said, ‘This is an open acknowledgement that earmarks are nothing more than legislative bribery to buy votes. But what it represents is a further repudiation by leadership of the principles that got them in power in the first place. In 2010, Republicans pledged to ‘put us on a path to balance the budget and pay down the debt.'” See Are earmarks returning?

Earmark requests for Kansas

The federal omnibus spending bill introduced earlier this week has now been abandoned. That’s good, because even with all the talk about earmark reform, this bill was loaded. Based on a database compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense, I’ve compiled a list of earmarks requested for Kansas. These are requested, not passed, and their future status is unknown.

The list is presented below. It’s illuminating to experience the breadth of earmark requests made and their justifications.

Here’s an example of just how out of control these requests can become. A request by Senator Sam Brownback, who is soon to become Governor of Kansas, is titled “75th Street Utility Undergrounding.” It asks for $4,500,000 to convert overhead utility wires to underground on a 2.9 mile section of a major arterial street in Prairie Village, in Johnson County.

I suppose that most cities have streets where it would be desirable to replace overhead utilities with underground. There are many advantages, not to mention aesthetic appeal. But why should one suburban Kansas City town be singled out from all others for this special treatment?

According to an analysis by Taxpayers for Common Sense, Brownback has requested, either by himself or with another member of Congress, 61 earmarks with a cost of $125,552,000. That ranked 29th among senators.

Kansas Requested Earmarks, Fiscal Year 2011

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday November 29, 2010

Louisville success factor may be gone. The secret sauce behind redevelopment of downtown Louisville, Kentucky may no longer be available to cities attempting to replicate Louisville’s success, such as it is. The Washington Post reports in the article Sen. Mitch McConnell’s earmark power credited for revitalizing Louisville: “The once grand downtown of this city on the Ohio River is shabby, as the nation’s old downtowns tend to be. Magnificent tall cast-iron-fronted buildings sit empty. So do historic brick tobacco warehouses, surrounded in razor wire, tagged with graffiti. But the downtown of Kentucky’s largest city also has a spectacular redeveloped waterfront featuring bike paths and open vistas, the spanking-new KFC Yum Center sports arena, and a medical complex of several hospitals that employ nearly 20,000 people, treat tens of thousands and conduct cutting-edge research. This resurgence is a result of civic vision, pride, tenacity — and the impressive earmark performance of Louisville’s Slugger: Mitch McConnell (R), Kentucky’s longest-serving senator and the powerful Senate minority leader.” … Louisville is cited as a success story by Wichita’s planners. But the earmark money that helped Louisville is probably not available to Wichita in the near term, and may not ever be available again, at least as it has been in the past. Plus, Kansas doesn’t have a senator with the clout of McConnell, and not one that calls Wichita home. McConnell lives in Louisville.

Loss of earmarks lamented. In the Wichita Eagle article Earmark ban could kill some Kansas projects, well, the title pretty much describes the problem according to some. In particular, the town of Augusta would have had a difficult time affording a levee if not for earmarks. It is mentioned that earmarks are about one percent of the total federal budget. One comment writer, defending the process, wrote “Earmarks return our money to us.” To which we must counter: Why send the money away to Washington in the first place, only to have to fight to get it back?

“No” to citizen-powered democracy. The Newton Kansas argues that a “practical” state like Kansas shouldn’t let its citizens place propositions on the ballot through the petitions process. The editorial says that the California budget process has led to “serious economic turmoil in that state.” It doesn’t explain why, but the writer is probably referring to the fact that the California budget must be passed by a two-thirds majority of both houses of the legislature, rather than by a simple majority as in Kansas. The editorial also says that ballot measures induce spending by proponents and opponents, and some money may come from out of state. Special interests may get involved, too. And administrative costs of adding “pages” to the ballot must be paid for, too. … I must inform the Newton Kansas that the Kansas statehouse is already overrun by special interests, out-of-state interests already spend a lot on our elections and lobbying, and anyone who has observed our legislative process up close would not use the word “practical” to describe it. … The primary reason the ruling class don’t like the citizen initiative process is that one of the first things citizens may do is impose term limits on their elected officials.

Wichita IMAX may not be exclusive. In another installment of his series of love letters to Wichita theater operator Bill Warren, Wichita Eagle reporter Bill Wilson reports on the construction of Warren’s new theater in west Wichita. On Warren’s plans for his theaters in Moore, Oklahoma (part of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area), Wilson’s article reports: “IMAX? ‘Possibly, and a few other surprises down there,’ Warren said.” … Earlier this year when Warren applied to the Wichita City Council for favored tax treatment for this theater, he implied that without the city’s largesse, he’d take his IMAX theater elsewhere. In his remarks at the council meeting where the tax favoritism was approved, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer bought into the myth that there can be only one Warren IMAX theater when he said: “A lot of other cities want this IMAX … they’re on the internet watching this city council meeting to see what we’re going to do because they’re going to make a bid for this IMAX.” … City officials said the theater would be a tourist draw from as far away as Texas. … With another Warren IMAX possibly being built nearby, Wichitans and the mayor ought to agree that we were mislead, and Wilson ought to report this in the pages of the Wichita Eagle. This entire episode is more evidence that the Wichita City Council will believe almost anything told to them, as long as it involves the possibility of economic development and jobs.

Sheriff to address Pachyderms, guide tour. This Friday (December 3) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw as the presenter. His topic will be “An overview of the duties of the office of sheriff.” Then, from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm Sheriff Hinshaw will guide Pachyderm Club members on a tour of the Sedgwick County jail. I’ve had the sheriff’s tour before, and it is very interesting. The public is welcome at Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Wichita City Council this week. As this Tuesday is the fifth Tuesday of a month, the Wichita City Council will not meet. Also, the Sedgwick County Commission will not meet this week.

No free market for health care. A letter in today’s Wichita Eagle claims love for the free-market economy, but not for the provision of health care. The writer claims that free markets for medical services cannot work, because the transactions are one-sided, in that the patient does not have freedom of choice. The writer also cites government success in providing military and education that “improve our society’s overall well-being,” so government should provide health care, too. … I might suggest to the letter writer that we first attempt a free market in health care before we decide it doesn’t work. Most health care is paid for by someone else, and many people who have health insurance through their employers don’t have a choice in the matter. It is this regulation that causes many of the problems in the market, such as it is, and it is nothing resembling “free.” … Citing success of government education and military may not be persuasive to those who see performance of American schools on a long downward slide compared to other countries.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Thursday November 18, 2010

But did he vote for him? The press release doesn’t say if he voted for the House Speaker Designee, but Congressman-in-waiting Mike Pompeo of the Kansas fourth district is pleased that John Boehner will be the next Speaker of the House of Representatives: “Congressman Boehner and I share the same vision for moving our nation in a new direction. Voters have made it clear they want smaller government, less spending and more individual freedom. The American people have directed us to put our country back on a course toward opportunity and economic prosperity. I look forward to working with Speaker Boehner and my colleagues in the 112th Congress as we work to meet the challenge before us.”

Last call for Irish coffee? I’ve always thought that Irish coffee was the perfect food, providing four essential nutrients in one tasty beverage: alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and fat. But this beverage may soon be banned. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration news release states: “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today warned four companies that the caffeine added to their malt alcoholic beverages is an ‘unsafe food additive’ and said that further action, including seizure of their products, is possible under federal law.” Coffee isn’t a “malt beverage,” I don’t believe, but what’s to stop the FDA from extending this prohibition?

At least one will still earmark. Now that Lisa Murkowski has won reelection to the U.S. Senate, she “is in debt to nobody,” according to the Washington Examiner. And the seeming consensus on banning earmarks? “Murkowski has repeatedly said this week she will continue to request earmarks, justifying them because Alaska is a ‘young’ state (a ‘young state’ that takes five dollars in spending for every dollar in taxes it sends to Washington, according to the Cato Institute). Murkowksi points out that the Republican Senate Conference rule banning earmarks has no real enforcement mechanism, and says she’ll chose Alaska over the party. But Murkowski’s earmarking shows us that pork isn’t about helping out the home state as much as it’s about rewarding political donors and greasing the gears of the political patronage machine.”

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Sunday October 10, 2010

Countryman back on air: Gene Countryman, host of a long-running radio show that went off the air earlier this year, returns to the airwaves tonight with the Gene Countryman Show. The new show airs Sunday evenings from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm on KNSS Radio 1330 AM.

Koch article criticism: Andrew Ferguson, media critic for Commentary, provides a critical look at the left-wing hysteria over Jane Mayer’s New Yorker Magazine “exposé” of Charles Koch, David Koch, and Koch Industries. Best quote: “The only support in Mayer’s article for this extravagant charge comes from second-hand assertions, usually in quotes from the brothers’ critics. Many are anonymous. Others are incompletely identified. Conservative think tanks and activists are carefully pinned with the ideological tag; liberal think tanks and left-wing activists are, well, just think tanks and activists.”

Who wins here? Letter from Pat Risley in Wichita Eagle: “Westar is requesting approval to recover direct costs and lost revenues associated with the implementation of the SimpleSavings program. Basically, it means that as homes become more energy-efficient, the lost revenues to Westar would be passed on to all Westar customers.” I thought we were all supposed to win with conservation measures. At its core, I imagine this has something to do with Westar being a regulated utility, rather than operating in a free market for energy.

‘Down-ballot’ races also are important this year: Writing in the Wichita Eagle, Kansas University political science professor Burdett Loomis discusses the “minor” statewide races in Kansas this year. Minor perhaps in terms of the public policy impact of some of these offices, but not for some of the candidates. Writes Loomis: “Beyond the races themselves, these statewide offices offer the real pathways for advancing to the governorship or Congress.”

Informed choice: The Lawrence Journal-World notes the lack of debates in this election season, both statewide and local: “The near lack of joint debate or forum appearances by the two major party candidates for Kansas governor has drawn considerable attention across the state, but the gubernatorial candidates aren’t the only ones opting out of such events. The unwillingness of candidates to participate in voter education events is reaching all the way to the local level.” An exception might be the Kansas fourth district. Raj Goyle’s events page lists several past and upcoming forums and debates.

Equity in education? Ken Stephens of the Hutchinson News contributes a story looking at the Kansas school finance formula and the issues involved in its reform. It contains a rare piece of wisdom from school lobbyist Mark Tallman, who advocates for more school spending at any expense to the state. Stephens reports: “Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, once suggested that he would like to lock a group of the smartest superintendents in the state in a room to rewrite the formula. The kicker, though, would be that when they were done, all their names would be placed in a hat and their names would be randomly drawn to determine which district they would serve in the future. ‘So don’t write the formula for the district you’re in now,’ Tallman said. ‘Write a formula you think will work for whatever district.'” This reminds me of the wisdom of Walter E. Williams, who wrote “The kind of rules we should have are the kind that we’d make if our worst enemy were in charge.”

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line: “Thanks to the Sedgwick County commissioners for saving us from another tax-increment financing district. Wish the city had some backbone to do what is right for taxpayers.” … “Did anyone else notice that the Republicans’ Pledge to America didn’t include one word about earmarks and pork-barrel spending? I guess that’s just too much to ask.”

Earmarks and Kansas elections

The topic of earmarks is playing a role in contest for the Republican Party nomination for United States Senate from Kansas between Todd Tiahrt and Jerry Moran.

The United States Office of Management and Budget provides one definition of earmarks: “Earmarks are funds provided by the Congress for projects, programs, or grants where the purported congressional direction (whether in statutory text, report language, or other communication) circumvents otherwise applicable merit-based or competitive allocation processes, or specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the executive branch to manage its statutory and constitutional responsibilities pertaining to the funds allocation process.”

What is the difference between earmark spending and “regular” government spending? Speaking on the floor of the House in March 2009, Ron Paul, the libertarian member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas and Republican presidential candidate in 2008, made these remarks:

In reality what we need are more earmarks. Just think of the 350 billion dollars that we recently appropriated and gave to the Treasury Department. Now everybody is running around and saying, “We don’t know where the money went, we just gave it to them in a lump sum.” We should have earmarked everything. It should have been designated where the money is going. So instead of too many earmarks we don’t have enough earmarks. Transparency is the only way we can get to the bottom of this and if you make everything earmarked it would be much better.

This is a key distinguishing characteristic of earmark spending: legislators, rather than agencies like the Treasury Department, decide how and where the money is spent.

According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, earmarks are estimated to cost $11 billion in the current fiscal year (2010), which is down from $15 billion the year before. The Washington newspaper The Hill warns, however, that some of this decrease is due to a change in classification of some spending.

While some view earmarks and their elimination as a defining issue, we must remember that the level of earmark spending is relatively small compared to the entire federal budget. The 2010 budget calls for spending $3.55 trillion, so earmarks account for 0.3 percent of this amount. Considering discretionary spending only — and earmarks are discretionary — earmarks are 0.8 percent of $1.368 trillion planned discretionary spending.

This is not to say that this spending is not harmful and should not be eliminated.

Paul — accurately self-described as “America’s leading voice for limited constitutional government, low taxes, free markets, and a return to sound monetary policies” — defends his insertion of earmarks into appropriations bills. In an article titled Earmarks Don’t Add Up, Paul explained why:

The total level of spending is determined by the Congressional leadership and the appropriators before any Member has a chance to offer any amendments. Members’ requests are simply recommendations to allocate parts of that spending for certain items in that members’ district or state. If funds are not designated, they revert to non-designated spending controlled by bureaucrats in the executive branch. In other words, when a designation request makes it into the budget, it subtracts funds out of what is available to the executive branch and bureaucrats in various departments, and targets it for projects that the people and their representatives request in their districts. If a congressman does not submit funding requests for his district the money is simply spent elsewhere. To eliminate all earmarks would be to further consolidate power in the already dominant executive branch and not save a penny.

A spokesman for House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, was quoted in The Hill article as saying “Earmarks represent less than 1 percent of the federal budget, and they don’t add a dime to it — they are simply a way for Congress to direct funding that would otherwise be directed by administration officials.”

So here we have both liberal and conservative legislators defending the system.

It goes without saying that we need to reform this process. Currently, it allows members to say that since the money’s going to be spent somewhere, let’s spend it in my district. The motivation of members is that since their districts are taxed to send the money to Washington, they need to fight to get their districts’ fair share back — and some more, for good measure. This used to be one of the measures of success of a Congressman.

But the rise of federal spending and indebtedness has been one of the primary motivating factors of the tea party movement, and earmarks are a favorite target of conservative ire and anger.

So how do the two veteran Kansas Congressmen rank on earmarks and “pork” spending? The Club for Growth compiles a scorecard called the RePORK Card. This measures votes on “68 anti-pork amendments” in the 2009 Congress. Club Executive Director David Keating writes “The RePORK Card will help taxpayers measure the dedication of their representatives to changing the culture of corruption that surrounds pork-barrel spending.”

For 2009, Moran scored 96 percent, voting against 65 of the 68 measures. Tiahrt scored 29 percent, voting against 20 of the 68.

In the previous year for this project (2007), the two representatives’ scores were much closer: Moran scored four percent, while Tiahrt scored zero percent.

According to analysis by Taxpayers for Common Sense, Tiahrt was responsible for 13 “solo” earmarks in the 2010 budget, totaling $5,550,000 in spending. Moran was close behind with eight earmarks with a total value of $5,150,000. Solo earmarks are defined as “The total of earmarks on which only that member’s name appears.”

Considering solo earmarks and earmarks with other members, Tiahrt notched spending of $63,400,000, with Moran at $18,600,000. These earmarks are defined as “The total of earmarks on which that member’s name appears, either by itself or with other members. TCS does not split an earmark.”

In a recent forum of candidates for the Republican Party nomination for United States Congress from the fourth district of Kansas sponsored by the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, candidates were asked about earmarks.

(The candidates and their campaign websites are Wichita businessman Jim Anderson, Wichita businessman Wink Hartman, Wichita businessman Mike Pompeo, Latham engineer Paij Rutschman, and Kansas Senator Jean Schodorf.)

Rutschman said representatives want to do things that are in the interest of their states, but we should not pass earmarks that are detrimental to the nation.

Schodorf said that the appropriation process should be transparent, but that we need to cut spending today.

Anderson said that he is against earmarks, saying that the process provides for corruption of the political process. He would support legislation outlawing the process.

Hartman said he is totally against earmarks, noting that many people think that earmarks are good when they “make your grass turn green,” but a “bridge to nowhere” is different. He seconded Anderson’s concern about corruption.

Pompeo said he is against earmarks, saying that if “safe roads make good sense, we in Kansas can figure out how to fund them.” He agreed with concerns about corruption.

Obama faces earmark test

A test for President Barack Obama is coming up soon.

When campaigning for the presidency, Obama pledged to end earmark spending. As reported earlier this year in Time Magazine: “… both Obama and Republican nominee John McCain tried to outdo each other with their pledges to rid Washington of the notorious pet projects that legislators slip into spending bills. Obama, who authored 2007 legislation to overhaul congressional ethics rules governing lobbying and earmarks, runs a real credibility risk when he makes exceptions to his own rules.”

But did he make a pledge to end earmarks? MediaMatters says he didn’t make a specific pledge. But he certainly criticized the earmark process.

At any rate, a bill loaded with earmarks is heading to the president for his signature. As reported in the New York Times: “The bill includes 1,720 earmarks costing $4.2 billion for lawmakers’ pet projects, according to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.”

Earlier this year, Obama signed a spending bill that contained earmarks. His defenders said that it was “last year’s business.”

Fair enough. Obama inherited certain conditions upon assuming office. But now — at least as far as this spending bill is concerned — it’s all his own doing.

We’ll know soon how Obama really feels about earmark spending.

Earmarks are (not) OK

In a Wichita Eagle letter, writer Prem N. Bajaj of Wichita makes the case that Earmarks are OK. But only by tortured reasoning, in my opinion.

First, he states: “Earmarks finance local projects that the community is unable to support.” I ask Mr. Bajaj this question: Where, if not from community, does money for earmarks come from? If you consider just two parties — your local community and the federal government — earmarks may seem like a great thing. Free money! Who doesn’t want that? But communities across the country lobby for and get earmarks too, and they may be represented by congressmen more skilled at obtaining earmarks than ours.

At best, earmarks might be a wash, where each community receives earmarks equal to what it sends to Washington. But even if this were the case, why have Washington involved at all? Each community could keep its own money and spend it as it sees fit, without subjecting itself to the waste and corruption inherent in the present earmark process.

Then he writes this: “The money comes from the taxpayers, and they are the beneficiaries.” Mr. Bajaj writes as though relying on government, rather than markets and the private sector, leads to greater wealth. In fact, the opposite is true. The incentives that government faces and responds to are not the same as the private sector, where waste and inefficiency are punished. Not to mention failing to supply what consumers really want to buy.

A few quotes from economist Thomas Sowell seem appropriate at this time:

“This was all before politicians gave us the idea that the things we could not afford individually we could somehow afford collectively through the magic of government.”

“If you have been voting for politicians who promise to give you goodies at someone else’s expense, then you have no right to complain when they take your money and give it to someone else, including themselves.”

“Mystical references to ‘society’ and its programs to ‘help’ may warm the hearts of the gullible but what it really means is putting more power in the hands of bureaucrats.”

“The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.”

Voters Want Less Pork, Even in Their Own District

From Voters Want Less Pork, Even in Their Own District, July 24, 2008 Wall Street Journal:

The Club for Growth recently conducted a nationwide poll on government spending, and the results were exactly the opposite of what most politicians have been saying for years. Voters are fed up with Washington’s out-of-control spending. Politicians aren’t representing the will of the people when they bring home the bacon. They are really representing the will of their special-interest cronies. And it’s not just conservative voters who feel that way. Voters across the board have finally found something they can agree on even if their elected officials can’t: It’s time to cut the fat, even if that means fewer projects for their own districts.

Earmarks and pork thoroughly established

In a letter printed in the February 22, 2008 Wichita Eagle, Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Tom Winters, along with Wichita State University President Don Beggs, praised some Kansas congressmen for being “very effective Washington advocates for south-central Kansas.” What the congressmen — Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, and Kansas Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts — did was to “roll up their sleeves and work on many issues that help improve our quality of life in the Wichita area.” Sounds like a noble cause, doesn’t it?

What the three congressmen did was to secure federal funding for several projects deemed important to Chairman Winters and President Beggs. In other words, they brought home the pork to Wichita in the form of earmarks. This is why efforts to reform earmarks and pork barrel spending have failed and are likely to continue to fail. Evidence of this is Tom Winters, as I believe that he would describe himself as fiscally conservative, yet he praises his congressmen when they bring home the pork.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt recently sent me a newsletter by email titled “It’s Time to End Wasteful Spending.” It told me of his goal “to find and create solutions that will benefit Kansas taxpayers.” He’s done just that, according to the letter from Winters and Beggs, and in the past too.

In 2004 the Wichita Business Journal reported on two projects where Rep. Tiahrt brought home funding to his district. One was a computer-aided dispatch system for Sedgwick County’s 911 system. The other was a grant to the Wichita Art Museum. Neither recipient of the earmarks, the director of Sedgwick County’s Emergency Communications Department and the director of the Wichita Art Museum, thought the spending qualified as pork. Most pork recipients feel the same.

Then there’s Tiahrt’s earmark for the BTK investigation. As reported in Human Events: “Tiahrt, according to ‘The Almanac of American Politics,’ has bragged that one of the ‘top 10 most gratifying things I’ve done’ is securing $1 million in an omnibus appropriations bill for the Wichita Police Department to investigate the ‘BTK’ killer.”

That’s the way it usually is. The recipients of the earmarked pork barrel spending believe the need is urgent, the cause worthy, and a federal earmark is justified. It seems that everyone across the country believes this about their own pet projects.

To Rep. Tiahrt’s credit, he has voted for earmark reform measures. But his behavior and that of our two senators, Roberts and Brownback, is to continue to bring home earmarks and pork for the good of the folks back home.

And who can blame them, really? After all, we pay taxes to the federal government. Shouldn’t we get something back? Even Ron Paul gets earmarks for his congressional district. Should Rep. Tiahrt turn down earmarks, his political opponents would have his hide for failing to look out for the needs of his district.

But with these attitudes, earmark reform will never succeed, and pork barrel politics will never end.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt and BTK

Congressman Todd Tiahrt has secured $1 million for use by the Wichita Police Department in the omnibus appropriations bill that goes before the House of Representatives on Monday.

The bill has already passed the Senate, Tiahrt spokesman Chuck Knapp said, and approval by the House is expected to be a formality.

While there are safeguards in place to make sure the money is used for certain purposes, Knapp said, “we’re just not able to comment on the details of the funding.” — From “BTK ‘clues’ breed theories” in The Wichita Eagle, December 2, 2004.

Here The Wichita Eagle reports that U.S. Representative Todd Tiahrt secured one million dollars from the federal government to help pay for costs related to the investigation of the BTK serial killer. Rep. Tiahrt was widely praised for this.

We should remember where that money came from. It didn’t fall out of the sky. It wasn’t free. It came from the taxpayers of the entire country. I suspect that many people in Wichita thought it was good that we got the nation as a whole to pay for the BTK investigation.

But think about what had to happen behind the scenes. Rep. Tiahrt must have lobbied for the money. Then the federal government collected tax money, only to send it back to Wichita. That, right there, is inefficient. A bureaucracy had to exist to perform that.

Then, of course, Rep. Tiahrt and Wichita aren’t the only ones looking for a federal handout. When other cities or states receive money in this way — a special payment to one locality for a special project — we in Wichita call it pork barrel spending. That’s exactly what Rep. Tiahrt engaged in to get us the money for BTK. He should be ashamed, and we should not laud him for it.