With great fanfare, Congress adopted strict ethics rules last year requiring members to disclose when they steered federal money to pet projects. But it turns out lawmakers can still secretly direct billions of dollars to favored organizations by making vague requests rather than issuing explicit instructions to government agencies in committee reports and spending bills. That seeming courtesy is the difference between “soft earmarks” and the more insistent “hard earmarks.”
How to spot a soft earmark? Easy. The language is that of a respectful suggestion: A committee “endorses” or notes it “is aware” of deserving programs and “urges” or “recommends” that agencies finance them.
After hard earmarks figured into several Congressional scandals and prompted criticism of wasteful spending from government agencies and watchdog groups, Congress cut back on their number last year and required disclosure of most of them. (There were more than 10,000, costing nearly $20 billion last year, according to the Congressional Research Service.)
But soft earmarks, while not a new phenomenon, have drawn virtually no attention and were not included in the ethics changes — and current ones under consideration — because Congress does not view them as true earmarks.
Their total cost is not known. But the research service found that they amounted to more than $3 billion in one spending bill alone in 2006, out of 13 annual appropriations bills. And the committee that handles the bill, which involves foreign operations, has increasingly converted hard earmarks to soft ones.
Soft earmarks are included in a number of spending measures, but they tend to occur more frequently in spending bills that give money to the State Department, the United States Agency for International Development and other foreign aid programs.
Federal agencies are not required to finance soft earmarks. However, officials have traditionally felt obliged to comply with such requests.
“Soft earmarks, while not legally binding, frequently come with an implicit threat: If you don’t take our suggestions, we will give you a hard earmark next,” said Andrew Natsios, former administrator of A.I.D. in the Bush administration.
ABOUT THIS BLOG
I shall post videos, graphs, news stories, and other material. We shall use some of this material in class, and you may review the rest at your convenience. You will all receive invitations to post to the blog. I encourage you to use the blog in these ways:
· To post questions or comments;
· To follow up on class discussions;
· To post relevant news items or videos.
There are only two major limitations: no coarse language, and no derogatory comments about people at the Claremont Colleges.
The syllabus is at http://www1.cmc.edu/pages/faculty/JPitney/gov106-fall15.html