Why You Should Consider Running For Office: Earmarks, Riders & Overly Complex Bills

Have you ever wondered why a bill that is geared towards something simple is so hard to get passed? Simple things like removing lead water pipes, or fixing roads which should largely be “no brainers” are fought for and against, tooth and nail for months in Congress. That’s largely because what appears simple, is far from it.

Much of the problem stems from two items which are frequently attributed as the cause for objections from an opposing party. These items are earmarks and riders. Most every bill that you will see put forward in Congress include these two extra items.

Let’s define these terms in the contexts that we are referring to:

Rider:

2a : an addition to a document (such as an insurance policy) often attached on a separate piece of paper
b : a clause appended to a legislative bill to secure a usually distinct object
3: something used to overlie another or to move along on another piece

Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rider

Earmark:

3: a provision in Congressional legislation that allocates a specified amount of money for a specific project, program, or organization

Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/earmark

These items are often attached to a bill in order to get them passed by the opposing party. This may not seem like a bad idea at first glance. The problem comes when the items attached have absolutely nothing to do with the bill, and are used as a means to get funding for a project that would likely be unpopular publicly.

Here are a couple of examples from The Omnibus Bill of 2014:

A provision buried on page 472 prohibits the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from taking any action to reign in the political activity of 501(c)4 organizations. These organizations, which enjoy significant tax exemptions as nonprofits, weren’t originally supposed to engage in political activity at all. In recent years, however, they’ve become a favorite of anyone who wants to buy political influence without attracting attention.

and

On a similar note, another provision tucked away on page 1,982 prohibits the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from requiring corporations to disclose their political spending.
This is especially outrageous because disclosure is, at least on paper, one of the least controversial and most basic steps toward reform the government can take. We’re not talking about cutting off the flow of money here — just letting the public see who’s spending it, and what they’re spending it on.

Reference: https://represent.us/action/omnibus2015-a1/

Most everyone who has a bone to pick with our government points to spending in one form or another. Whether your particular concern is about funding a defense contractor who makes billions on a project that is never completed, or funding a shrimp running on a treadmill, everyone has a beef with where our tax dollars go.

Here are two examples of wasted taxpayer money:

5. Unemployment Payouts to Millionaires
It’s not just adult babies gaming the system. In 2011, we discovered that federal unemployment benefits are being sent to the wealthy — who bilk the system out of at least $30 million each year.
Our Solution: In April 2011, the Senate approved, in a vote of 100–0, an amendment to end unemployment payments to millionaires, but the underlying provision did not become law.
8. The Pentagon’s “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?” symposium
In 2012, we issued a report titled “Department of Everything” that showed how the Department of Defense could make cuts in “non-defense” spending — spending in DOD that has nothing to do with our national defense, which we’ve estimated totals almost $68 billion. In the report, we highlighted surprising spending on beef jerky and a smartphone add to gauge caffeine intake. Our eyebrows were also raised by a strategy planning workshop for which nearly $100,000 was allocated. One of the sessions at the symposium explored the relationship between Jesus and Klingons, the famous alien species in the Star Trek series.

Reference: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/02/government-spending-tom-coburn-103189

I know what you’re thinking… “Come on, really? We spent money on this?” Yes, you did. This is what happens when we call a proposal that has countless of programs and items, and spans thousands of pages a “Defense Spending Bill”. It’s also what happens when we make a proposal so long and complex that you can’t read it all.

This is why even though he was a subject of derision (for good reason) during his presidential campaign several years ago, I agree in principal with Herman Cain on one point. We shouldn’t have bills that are 1,000+ pages long.

Reference:

If a bill is going to be about clean water, then that’s all that it should be about. It should not include a rider or earmark for funding cow stool research. A clean, and simple bill would allow constituents and congress members to actually know exactly what they are supporting. It also allows for less grey area when holding Senators and Representatives accountable for their votes.

Also, while earmarks are “banned” in Congress, there is a lot of support for bringing them back. They would be back already if it weren’t for Paul Ryan pumping the breaks on the idea.

Reference: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/11/17/earmarks-are-good-earmarks-work-congress-should-bring-them-back/?utm_term=.cc3698d03080

The writer of the Washington Post article referenced above says it’s smart to bring earmarks back, (compromise, tit-for-tat). I disagree as earmarks are part of how we get overly bloated budgets, and is yet another way to lengthen bills that are already way too long, and way too complex.

Unfortunately, most of the people on Capitol Hill are lawyers, and are bought out by big money backers. The latter issue has them beholden to their interests and makes them more likely to throw in a rider or earmark that will help those interests.

This is why I think it’s critical that everyday Americans start running for 2018 and beyond. If at any point we are to get congress to start putting forth clean and straight forward bills, we need to be the ones in office pushing for it.


As an aside, my last article garnered several responses that indicated that they were under the impression that I was asking people to run as Democrats. It’s important to me that I am clear, I am NOT. I could care less about party. I care about principle. I care about reform, and it is my hope that working class citizens who want real reform start to become the people in Congress making the decisions.

This is a continuation of my previous article which you can find here: https://medium.com/seeing-through-the-b-s/an-open-letter-to-independents-and-progressives-run-for-office-31d3f989e2b6#.qcpigelxz