Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

March 6, 2009


David Sirota, Open Left - There's been a lot of noise made about the evils of congressional earmarking. . . A lot of the ire has been directed at specific earmarks that seem wasteful - and if the projects are, indeed, wasteful, then that is completely justified. However, those who advocate the banning of all earmarking are - whether consciously or not - working to undermine democracy and strengthen the czarist authoritarian impulse already intensifying inside our government. . .

If we're going to have the co-equal legislative branch that is necessary in a functioning democracy, we need to preserve the right of Congress to specifically direct spending, and not simply let earmark "reformers" succeed in offloading more spending decisions to the executive branch.

Remember, the spending decisions are going to be made by someone - whether a congressperson (or their staff) or an executive branch worker. The idea that there's something automatically better, less political or more objective about letting an executive branch political appointee in Washington, D.C. make a spending decision rather than a local congressperson with local knowledge of a district is silly. It makes no sense. . .

Indeed, eliminating the ability of Congress to earmark (as opposed to the valuable work of making earmarks more transparent or targeting specific bad earmarks for elimination) would be a huge and destructive power grab on behalf of the executive branch (which is why, by the way, presidents of both parties inevitably support the effort to eliminate earmarks) - that is, it would be a fundamental assault on democracy, both in terms of further weakening legislative branch power, and in terms of specifically trampling Congress's power of the purse.


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