Congressional concerns over fish and wildlife

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Column by Jim Flynn

Remember Earmarks? That’s a harmless sounding name for a sophisticated form of political corruption.
Earmarks are directions from members of Congress telling agencies to spend funds on pet projects, organizations, and companies or to provide exemptions from taxes and fees.
Campaign contributors and supporters are frequent beneficiaries of earmarked spending.
Responding to press and public pressure during the last election, incoming House Republicans pledged a moratorium on earmarks.
It turned out the moratorium had only one ear.
The House cut five billion worth of goodies out of one funding bill and left five billion of earmarks in another. Gradual withdrawal from an addiction is less painful than having to kick the habit all at once.
There was also an untouched basket of goodies left over in the 2010 budget, unspent earmarks hidden away in defense, transportation, and Corps of Engineers appropriations.
One such project was a refuge for loons which stop at a lake in Nevada for a few days during their migrations every spring and fall.
Why would loons need a refuge when they already know where they’re going and how to get there?
In a time of fiscal crisis, many voters see earmarks as just another example of political deviousness.
Over time, old fashioned bringing home the pork morphed into sending champagne and caviar to political supporters.
Some of the hocus-pocus about earmarks is in the definition. Congress defines spending as an earmark if the project is a late add-on to an appropriations bill at the request of a lawmaker. They say preferential projects already tucked away in original bills shouldn’t count as earmarks, no matter how ridiculous or devious they may be.
An absence of earmarks can be negative.
When Congress gave President Obama $800 billion of stimulus money and $350 billion of troubled asset money (TARP) with no spending directions, the president was free to create his own earmarks, spending where the money would return the most political benefit.
For years Congress people said their earmarks were money that would have been spent anyway. They were just directing funds to the places where they needed to be spent, so the funds wouldn’t get lost in the federal bureaucracy.
All spending should be publicly debated in committee hearings — with no add-ons allowed after bills are passed.
Earmarking everything could provide Congress with better control over how funds are spent by the White House and federal bureaucracies.
Unfortunately, that kind of transparency isn’t popular with politicians, who are consumed with getting re-elected.
Conversely voters are tired of congressional shenanigans.
In a time of debt and deficit crises, there has to be some way to prevent another billion dollar earmark to reintroduce salmon to a river which went dry years ago.