Home > Current Affairs > Demystifying the US “earmark” syndrome

Demystifying the US “earmark” syndrome

September 11, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

What are earmarks?

Earmarks are non-competitive spending provisions a Congressman slips into legislation that forces the federal government to spend taxpayer dollars on that Congressman’s project.

What are their origins?

These attachments to any federal spending bill are inserted after the debate on the bill is over in the Congress and can be put by any Congressman without explicit mention of his/her identity.

How do they work for the seekers?

Earmarks are funds assigned to specific projects that are slipped into a completely unrelated legislation without attribution to any Congressman and bypasses the normal procedures of peer or public review. When the original legislation is passed, the earmark is also approved. The irony is that these projects are specific to one territory related to the requesting Congressman and yet the whole nation’s taxpayers pay for it.

What are the side effects of this Congressional syndrome?

Earmarks have increased from 1,300 in 1994 to 14,000 last year totaling to around $27 billion… so much for the US polity believing in small government and fiscal responsibility.

Who controls the epidemic?

  • The party with the majority controls what earmarks go into legislation.
  • There is no vote on the earmarks and the majority leader makes the final decision on which earmarks are to be allowed.
  • Earmarks are not made public to even the Congressmen and so most of the time, no one in the Congress barring a few even know about them and yet end up voting for it without any knowledge.

These earmarks may be a Congressional syndrome, but should the taxpayers fund their addictions? Am sure the answer would be “certainly not”!

  1. Muazzam
    September 11, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Things are not that better off in India eiter. Even post Right to Info Act there’s still so much red tape involved.

    The strategy in the departments how ever seems to have changed from not providing any info to drowning people in a flood of information mostly unintelligable…

  2. September 13, 2008 at 11:44 am

    @ Muazzam

    Absolutely… it’s a case of “if you can’t convince them, confuse them”. There is a big trade-off on who is liable since… on one-hand, the administration is corrupt and secretive; on the other hand is the public who have time n again misused the power vested in them through the RTI legislation.

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