Updated at 1:07 p.m. on 12/15/2010
It looks like the lame duck Congress isn’t ready to give up its piggy bank just yet. Over 1,900 pages packed with earmarks and pork-barrel spending provisions arrived on the floor Tuesday.
The omnibus appropriations bill combines more than $1.2 trillion worth of unfinished budget work, combining 12 spending bills into one comprehensive package. Thousands of pet projects are scattered throughout the bill. The so-called earmarks came from both sides of the aisle, despite a recent call for a moratorium on the provisions from Republicans.
To understand why earmarks, which account for less than 1 percent of the federal budget, are garnering so much attention, “Eight Forty-Eight” spoke with two Illinois legislators: Democratic Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. who represents the 2nd District of Illinois and Republican Congressman John Shimkus from the 19th District.
Rep. Shimkus said that while he’s supported earmarks, after two consecutive years of trillion-dollar spending and the current $13.5 trillion national debt, his feelings have changed. He said excessive spending gave rise to the Tea Party movement.
Cuddy pointed out that some critics argue that eliminating earmarks won’t begin to make a dent in the massive debt given their limited share of the federal budget.
In response, Shimkus argued that this drop in the bucket is a much-needed catalyst for a larger overhaul.
“We have to start somewhere,” Shimkus said, “And this is a sign that we’re now at least starting to get serious. There’s a lot more work to do but to say it’s irrelevant is not fair.”
But Rep. Jackson said addressing the deficit can only come through tough decisions on overall taxing and spending. This means looking at things like entitlements—adjusting Medicare or Social Security benefits, military spending and weapons programs, addressing the retirement age and taking a long look at the tax side of the deficit to find responsible ways to raise revenue.
Jackson further emphasized that earmarks enable members of Congress, not bureaucrats, to ensure funding for vital programs and projects in their districts. When he was elected in 1995, Jackson was able to pointedly place an earmark within an agricultural appropriations bill to provide fresh water for Ford Heights.
Yet, a recent Harvard Business School study found cause for concern in its conclusion that public money, especially from earmarks, impedes private spending and investment.
Shimkus accounts the inverse relationship to a lack of the private capital or risk that’s generally involved in a good business model.
But Jackson countered that without an initial public injection, the private sector has no incentive to go into low-income communities.
“Why would the private sector ever choose a low-income community? When does a low-income community ever get water? When do they ever get roads?” Jackson asked Shimkus.
But Shimkus called a lack of confidence in bureaucracy an “indictment” on our national government and that perhaps such uncertainty is a call to scale back.