End earmarks

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, November 17, 2010

After years of talk and years of inaction, Congress may actually be about to put an end to its horrible habit of tacking huge hometown spending projects onto unrelated bills. It’s a trick lawmakers love, because it makes them look good for their constituents, but which collectively adds a huge drain to the federal checkbook — and to taxpayers’ pockets.

Lawmakers have traditionally scored big points with their voters by slipping spending projects into unrelated bills — think of Alaska’s “bridge to nowhere” as an example — that will please the home crowd but which truly serve no larger purpose. Some of the projects aren’t without value, but they simply aren’t things that are worthy of being supported at the federal level — that is, paid for by every American taxpayer. The vast majority of these projects, were they considered as a separate spending item and subject to a vote, would never pass the House and Senate and win a presidential signature.

In the wake of this month’s election results, even relatively safe incumbents have suddenly seen the light and decided they may need to change their ways. Politicians from the president to Congressional leaders have said they will support a ban on earmarks. If they hold true to their latest word and the ban truly takes effect, it will be one of the biggest reforms of federal government in decades.

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Of course, talk in Washington is far different from actual results. But maybe, just maybe, this much-needed change will actually take place. It won’t hurt if taxpayers continue to remind their representatives just how much they’d like to put an end to wasteful spending.