The Laudable Pursuit: Earmarks Are Not The Solution

Senator Mike Lee
2018-01-19 18:24:42
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 The Solution 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 otherwise oppose? 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 situation worse. 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 our jobs. Just say no to the return of Swamp Thing. 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 system. 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 parent's choosing. 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. Washington, D.C. Office 361A Russell Senate Office Building Washington, D.C., 20510 Phone: 202.224.5444 Fax: 202.228.1168 Salt Lake City Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building 125 South State, Suite 4225 Salt Lake City, UT 84138 Phone: 801.524.5933 Fax: 801.524.5730 St. George Office of Senator Michael S. Lee 285 West Tabernacle, Suite 200 St. George, UT 84770 Phone: 435.628.5514 SaveSaveSave SaveSave SaveSaveSave Save Save Save Save Save Save SaveSave SaveSaveSave SaveSave Save This message was intended for: xxx You were added to the system October 2, 2015. 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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 The Solution

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 otherwise oppose?

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 situation worse.

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 our jobs.

Just say no to the return of Swamp Thing.

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 system.
 
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 parent’s choosing.
 
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. 

 

Washington, D.C. Office
361A Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C., 20510
Phone: 202.224.5444
Fax: 202.228.1168

Salt Lake City
Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building
125 South State, Suite 4225
Salt Lake City, UT 84138
Phone: 801.524.5933
Fax: 801.524.5730

St. George
Office of Senator Michael S. Lee
285 West Tabernacle, Suite 200
St. George, UT 84770
Phone: 435.628.5514




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