January 19, 2017
"to elevate the condition of
men--to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, to clear the
paths of laudable pursuit for all, to afford all an unfettered
start and a fair chance, in the race of life." --Abraham Lincoln
Chairman's Note: Earmarks Are Not
Remember earmarks, those
infamous, special-interest spending provisions party leaders used
to sprinkle over legislation like sugar to get representatives
and senators to hold their noses and vote yes on bills they would
You probably haven't heard about
earmarks lately, thank goodness. Republicans banned them when the
Tea Party class came to Washington in 2010 opposed to the crony
corruption. Who can forget pork-barrel embarrassments like the
"Bridge to Nowhere," the "Monuments to Me" projects that members
got named after themselves, or the turtle tunnel in Florida (yes,
it's a tunnel for turtles)? Earmarks were everything Americans
couldn't stand about Washington - corrupt, wasteful, entitled,
and out of touch.
But on Thursday, a House
committee will hold a hearing to see about bringing them back.
Earmarks were the original Swamp Thing, and just like in
Hollywood, Washington is never above an ill-advised sequel to
make a quick buck.
Earmark fans never left
Washington, of course. They've just been laying low, waiting for
memories of their waste and abuse to fade. And seven years on,
they think they have found a nifty argument to carry pork-barrel
spending back into polite company. That argument is the
dysfunction in Congress over the last seven years. "See," they
say, "Congress can't get anything done anymore. Earmarks may not
be great, but they are the industrial lubricant of the
sausage-making factory that is Congress, and bringing them back
will get the machine working properly again."
Like many terrible political
arguments, it's superficially appealing. Congress is indeed
dysfunctional today. And earmarks probably would make it easier
for party leaders to buy the votes they need to pass the bills
they write. But the real problem here is this conceit that party
leaders have a natural mandate to exclusively write legislation.
There was a time when one could
reasonably argue that, between them, Republican and Democratic
elites represented the public. But today, both parties are
distrusted, both by their own members and the growing number of
independents who refuse to associate with either party. And the
institution where they supposedly do their representing,
Congress, is utterly despised. That's not because of a lack of
earmarks. It's because of a well-deserved lack of trust in our
governing institutions, and the people who run them.
Earmarks can't bring back that
the trust Congress has squandered. Only transparency and
accountability can do that.
The fight over earmarks is really
a fight over two competing visions of how Congress should govern.
The Washington establishment likes the current system where party
leaders negotiate and write bills behind closed doors, often
orchestrating a legislative cliff so that members are left with a
binary choice between two terrible options. This system keeps the
campaign and lobbying cash flowing through leadership offices and
their alumni on K Street. The tough decisions are made in secret
without any accountability. But no one likes the current
arrangement of government-by-cliff. So, the swamp hopes, all that
is needed is a little earmark lubricant to keep the game going.
But the fact is that this corrupt
system excludes all but a handful of representatives and
senators, and so effectively disenfranchises hundreds of millions
of Americans. Bringing back earmarks will only make that
The alternative system would be
one of transparency, decentralization, and accountability.
Representatives and senators would write legislation
collaboratively, in the open, forging popular compromises and
taking tough votes. Anytime someone says, "What we really need to
do is get everyone in a room to hammer out the details,"
remember, the Constitution provides for two such rooms: the House
and Senate chambers. The reason Congress doesn't work today is
that both party establishments are afraid of the electoral
consequences of the public actually seeing a free-wheeling debate
they can't control.
The path of transparency and
accountability would require members to do the hard work of
learning about issues and forming and defending coherent
positions. It would be far easier to just let leadership do all
the thinking for them and accept the occasional earmark they can
tout to constituents back home.
But this superficially easy path
is what has led us to the highly dysfunctional and divisive
status quo. Earmarks would make life easier for politicians, but
worse for the country. That Washington is even considering such a
bargain explains why Congress is held in such disdain.
Eventually, Congress will reform
itself, and so restore itself to its proper role in the federal
government and in American life. Earmarks are just one more bad
idea we need to discard before we finally face the truth and do
Just say no to the return of
Editor's Note: A version of this
oped first appeared in The Washington Examiner.
In FISA 702, the government has a
vast grant of power, a digital-age "general warrant" to hoard
untold terabytes of information about Americans
Click here to watch video
Issue in Focus: The Enhancing
Educational Opportunities for all Students Act
A few weeks ago, parents across
the country bundled their kids up and sent them back to school
after the holiday break. For some this meant loading them onto a
bus that would drop their child off at a nearby private school,
walking their child down the street to the local public school,
driving them a town over to a charter school, or herding them
down into the basement to resume home schooling.
While each of these parents had
chosen different ways to educate their children, what they all
have in common is the desire for their child to succeed and
receive the kind of education that will serve as a cornerstone
for success in their lives.
But all too often, parents who
have the most skin in our country's education system get stifled
in the federal red tape that surrounds their child's education.
Millions of low-income families find themselves trapped in
underperforming schools and are helpless to change their
circumstances. Parents are torn at what stage to start investing
in their child's education, because they can't afford to save for
private school tuition and college while still giving them school
supplies. Many parents feel like their attempts to give their
child a better life come up fruitless.
We can do better. But in order to
do so, we have to acknowledge some truths about our education
First, increased education
funding is not a silver bullet. Since 1970, the federal
government has nearly tripled the amount of money it spends on
elementary and secondary education, with little improvement to
show for it.
Second, Not all schools will be a
good fit for all students and parents are most often the best
suited to make these decisions.
And third, the federal
regulations currently in place inhibit parents from choosing and
investing in their children's education.
This is why I introduced the
Enhancing Educational Opportunities for all Students Act this
week. This bill would allow parents back in to their child's
education by giving them flexibility in how to finance it. This
flexibility means schools that parents could otherwise not afford
could now be an option.
This bill would allow parents to
use federal education Title I dollars as they saw fit. That could
mean the public school in the child's neighborhood, another
public school across town, or even a private school of the
The bill also removes the tax
burden that comes when parents invest more than $2,000 a year in
a child's Education Savings account. That means parents can save
and build more resources that can then be spent on tuition,
books, other school supplies, or even college.
By empowering parents and giving
them this flexibility, we are taking an important step to improve
the future of this country. As Thomas Jefferson said, "Above all
things, I hope the education of the common people will be
attended to, [as] on their good sense we may rely with the most
security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty." We can
secure that liberty for tomorrow by giving it to parents today.
361A Russell Senate
Salt Lake City
Wallace F. Bennett
125 South State,
Salt Lake City, UT
Office of Senator
Michael S. Lee
285 West Tabernacle,
St. George, UT 84770
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