While signing the “flawed” omnibus bill, President Obama announced a series of “earmark reforms,” once again elevating the proverbial solution in search of a problem:
These principles begin with a simple concept: Earmarks must have a legitimate and worthy public purpose. Earmarks that members do seek must be aired on those members’ websites in advance, so the public and the press can examine them and judge their merits for themselves. Each earmark must be open to scrutiny at public hearings, where members will have to justify their expense to the taxpayer.
Next, any earmark for a for-profit private company should be subject to the same competitive bidding requirements as other federal contracts.
Furthermore, it should go without saying that an earmark must never be traded for political favors.
Let’s assume that these are all good ideas (and I’m not sure that they are): how would you enforce these rules, assuming that they are even intelligible (e.g. one person’s pork is another’s legitimate public purpose). Say Congress enacts an appropriations bill with earmarks that haven’t had public hearings, or been on the member’s website (assuming that these are even deterrents). The earmarks are now “the law:” unless they are unconstitutional, you can’t say that they are illegal. And given standing rules, I don’t know who could sue in any event.
I suspect that the way they are enforced is through enactment of congressional rules. If there is an earmark that has not been marked up through a hearing, then a member could raise a point of order and remove the earmark. And since you would only need one member to do so, it wouldn’t be hard to do.
But to some extent, it shows how empty the whole exercise is. The President is announcing a set of reforms that will be implemented through Congressional rules, so he really doesn’t have any say in whole process anyway. One big principle of these rules (public purpose) is unintelligible; another (not in exchange for political favors) is already illegal; two others (website and public hearings) might actually be favored by members of the legislature so that they can take credit for it.
Can we get back to some real issues now?