Earmarking: The Good, the Bad, the…..


Yesterday, President Bush followed through on his threat to veto the Water Resources Development Act (H.R. 1495), a bill that would authorize $23 billion be spent on dam, levee and waterway projects throughout the country. Because the projects are so numerous and widespread, almost every member of Congress has a special project included, this veto might not stand.

A few weeks ago, The Politico listed all the various players have lined up pro and con on the bill and a veto. Our friends at Taxpayers for Common Sense say that the bill is ladened with earmarks making it fiscally irresponsible and applauded the president’s veto. Maybe so. But this bill gives me a chance to make a point about earmarking. Just because a project is ‘earmarked’ doesn’t mean it’s bad, or wasteful, or a payoff to a political contributor. We’ve seen lots of stories about such questionable earmarks in recent days, but it’s really, really important to remember that some earmarked funds really do go to critically important projects. Sunlight has been working with TCS on a new databases that will let you go through these earmarks easily and decide for yourself whether they are good, bad, or ugly.

We here at the Sunlight Foundation think that earmarking ought to be an open and transparent process: we don’t oppose the earmarking per se. It’s one way that Congress funds essential projects, in this case trusting the lawmakers who are close to their districts to decide what is necessary, rather than a nameless bureaucrat.

For instance, in the WRDA you’ll find critical projects for flood control and environmental restoration. The bill would also create a new national levee safety program that would help prepare for hurricanes. The work needed to protect Louisiana and the Gulf Coast from floods associated with hurricanes would be funded by this bill. No wonder the whole Louisiana delegation, regardless of party, is supporting the bill.

WRDA passed both chambers with veto-proof majorities, so it will be interesting to see if Congress will get its first override over the Bush Administration.