Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Unintended Consequence of the Earmark Ban

I have written here several times of my support for the discredited practice of "Congressional adds", or "earmarks".  Nothing gets me branded a RINO faster by my friends on the right than my continuing sense that earmarks were in many ways good for DoD (I don't have an opinion on their value elsewhere).  Earmarks were a method of keeping the bureaucracy on its toes, they contested the growing anti-competitive power of the federal labs, and they were a relatively efficient way of distributing resources MAINLY in helpful ways. 

But lets face it--earmarks served an even more important purpose, one whose absence is on full display as our system seems unable to get out of its own way.  Earmarks provided incentive to compromise.  Incentives provided leadership with tools to influence outliers.  Earmarks--to put it mildly--lubricated the system.

Committee assignments appear to be one of the few tools Congressional leadership has at its disposal to impose discipline, but as we saw in the Republican Caucus this year, even that isn't as powerful as "bringing home the bacon".  And as long as no one is "bringing home the bacon", there is no incentive to bend to the will of leadership and members simply have to answer to the folks back home, many of whom cheer their legislators (on both sides) along their paths to perdition. And there is little purchase in reaching across the aisle to fellow committee members to achieve goodness.  A necessary and efficient internal control is gone, and the system suffers. 

Now correlation is not causation, I'll grant that.  But the little I know about how the system works leads me to believe that the "relief valve" that was earmarks was essential to proper system operation.  Without it, the system has overpressurized and has ceased to operate effectively. 

Bryan McGrath

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