I don’t normally write about the circus act that is Congress, but U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson’s recent commentary on earmarks should not go unchallenged. I wrote the portion of the state GOP platform opposing earmarks back in 2007 when I worked for a member of Congress, so I’m familiar with how ridiculous and twisted the earmarking process is.
In his writing, Simpson described an anti-earmark rule that he opposed as “a political stunt that would have done nothing to reduce government waste.” This is just an example of a lifelong politician holding onto an atrophied system because it benefits him, not his constituents or the country.
In reality, Simpson doesn’t want to get rid of earmarks because earmarks are a historically fruitful way to buy votes. Earmarks allow him and his entrenched colleagues to deliver money for political allies. Simpson and his cohort then get to ask voters to retain them in office because they “brought home the bacon,” and if you love bacon, they're there to serve up more of it.
For Simpson, it becomes a carrot for voters to overlook his leftist voting record and retain him in office because he has power and connections and to shower the politically-connected people, organizations, and industries in his district with gifts from the federal treasury. “Gosh, he’s a leftist, but he sure has the connections to get us stuff,” is the usual refrain for reluctant Simpson voters. And it's not just reluctance in the voices of voters. It's fear. They fear that without Simpson, the money they need or want won't be accessible.
This is a tool to keep Americans dependent on money and politicians from Washington, D.C. The residents of Simpson’s own district feel they should sit and wait for a federal grant rather than to deal with critical matters themselves. They’re held hostage by incompetent federal agencies, poorly run federal programs, and the politicians that are expected to oversee them.
Simpson’s claim that “no bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., knows Idaho the way you and I do,” is probably true. But Simpson doesn’t know his own district the way people in his district know his district. By his own admission, he’s spent two decades in Congress. He’s spent far more time in the nation’s Capitol than in places like Malad, Gooding, Ketchum, and Eden. Having him decide what projects are important or not important to the district is no better than letting John Kerry make the decisions because he has a home here.
I suspect that if you attached a meter to Simpson’s leg and monitored just how much time he’s spent in those communities — or any of the communities of his 2nd congressional district — you’d find that it’s a fraction of the time he’s spent inside the Beltway. In fact, a Simpson sighting during the 2022 election cycle was about as rare as a Bigfoot sighting, and often just as unbelievable. I’m willing to bet I attended more of the 2nd CD’s county GOP Lincoln Day events in 2022 than Simpson, and I wasn’t even on the ballot.
Moreover, Simpson seems to forget that his revered earmark process still means federal bureaucrats are involved in deciding which projects get funded and which don't, only it's the bureaucrats who work for Congress who are in the mix, making the decisions.
Yet their opinions of what’s important to the various congressional districts get to supersede the opinions of the people who actually live and work in the state every day, not just on occasion or never.
Finally, the U.S. Constitution is supposed to be a limitation on federal power and spending. Simpson’s love of earmarks includes those that certainly have nothing to do with the proper role of the federal government. Earmarks allow members of Congress to fund projects that should never be handled federally.
Recent examples include environmental pet projects and funding of nonprofit groups. Someone show me in the Constitution where federal taxpayers are any more responsible for the $4.2 million Simpson earmarked for a sheep research center in Idaho as they are for the $1.9 million Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other east coast Democrats received for area aquariums.
If you really want a look at just how odious the earmarks are, check out the work of our friends at Citizens Against Government Waste. Earmarks were bad before Congress did away with them a decade ago and they’re bad today.
Sure, arguments will be made for every single project a congressman supports. Simpson does so by saying earmarks are not “more spending” but rather “a way for members to prioritize projects in their own districts within existing budget limits.”
What budget limits? The national debt is now nearly $32 trillion dollars, representing an obligation of nearly $249,000 per taxpayer. The national debt was $3.8 trillion when Simpspn was elected to Congress in 1998.
He's part of the problem, and so are congressional earmarks.