Military spending will thwart earmark ban, experts predict

Despite much bluster and hand-wringing about a two-year moratorium on earmarks, The Hill reports that:

Defense budget experts say the campaign to banish earmarks from Congress is unlikely to succeed because lawmakers will find other ways to direct money to military projects in their districts.

Military projects are too important in too many states and districts for an earmarks ban to halt targeted spending by lawmakers, former Senate congressional defense aides and analysts said.

The effectiveness of the earmark ban hinges on one’s definition of an earmark, and despite accepting the two year bar on earmarks, Senator Inouye is creating his own definition:

“It is hard to specifically define what is and what is not an earmark, so the working definition they come up with will be important,” Harrison said. While some call lawmakers keeping alive a program the Pentagon does not want earmarking, “others could call it a legitimate policy disagreement with the Pentagon.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) has said he will soon distribute to senators his definition of what he considers an earmark.

One word came up in most conversations about a congressional ban: loopholes. And former aides and longtime budget analysts expect the earmark bans to have plenty.

“The new pork mechanisms will depend on how Inouye has decided to define pork/earmarks,” Wheeler said. “The loopholes will be there; he and his staff know how to make them. Once the ‘definition’ is set, the workarounds will only be limited by the human imagination.”

As some of us predicted, it seems that more emphasis will be placed on politicians urging the military to include their pet projects into the requested budget:

Former congressional aides say the ban would lead to members taking a more active role in trying to convince a Pentagon official to insert their project into the defense budget plan.

“They will be forced to work more closely and organically with the services to convince them a project is worthy of inclusion in the original budget request,” Eaglen said.

Wheeler predicts an outbreak of “phone-marking,” a term used to describe members dialing up service officials to lobby for a hometown program or project.

This is actually an old trick in Senator Inouye’s book.  Many projects that he has funded do not name a specific recipient.  His projects often appear in Pentagon budget requests. The congressional staff coordinate the budget request with military officials. Often this occurs with local military installation or program officials who have particular budget needs that may or may not be favored by their superiors in the Pentagon.  The horse-trading occurs between the appropriators and the Pentagon officials.  Sometimes these projects are even procured through a rigged bidding process. That way the procurement is technically competed, but by tailoring the request for proposals for a specific recipient.  The Hawaii Technology Development Venture, an outgrowth of the Project Kai e’e / UARC scandal, is one such earmark that went through a bidding process.  Expect to see more of these earmarks that are not “earmarks”.


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