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Don’t let the swamp strike back: Keep earmarks away from Congress

We’ve done just fine over the last decade without this wasteful practice

There’s simply no reason to go back to the old, wasteful and detrimental ways of earmarks, Ernst writes.
There’s simply no reason to go back to the old, wasteful and detrimental ways of earmarks, Ernst writes. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

I know a thing or two about pigs, and one thing is for sure — they stink.

Pork was taken off the menu (temporarily, I guess) a decade ago after years of politicians literally pigging out on taxpayer dollars, earmarking millions for special interests and their own pet projects, like that infamous bridge to nowhere in Alaska. Some even went to jail for exchanging bribes over congressional pork.

But now Congress wants to bring the bacon back to the legislative process.

The incoming House Appropriations chair wants to go back to the days where individual members of Congress rewarded their donors and supporters with billions of dollars in taxpayer money with no oversight, no competition and no reviews. Is anyone surprised that members of Congress truly believe Washington is just not swampy enough? I guess House Democrats think Congress’ 15 percent (and rapidly declining) approval rating is a bit too high.

Congressional earmarks were banned in 2011 when a significant number of reformers, from both sides of the aisle, joined together to put a halt to the madness. Unfortunately, the ban wasn’t permanent.

Many members of Congress, even those with zero private-sector or military experience, believe themselves to be perfectly qualified to evaluate innovation for Department of Defense weapon systems. My suggestion? If congressmen want to play host of “Shark Tank,” they should resign their seats and call ABC for a job.

Defense earmarks are especially harmful because they take away critical research and development funds and direct them to things that have no value to the military or will actively harm our troops. As the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities — which oversees DOD research and development spending — you better believe this is of utmost importance to me. I’ll give you just two examples.

First, due to an earmark, the Navy was forced to buy luxury speedboats they didn’t need, so they turned around and gave them to a local college. Second, the Marines were forced to buy “combat” T-shirts that would have burned their bodies if they were caught in a fire in Iraq or Afghanistan. You can’t make this stuff up. Instead of putting taxpayer money to good, important use — like researching and developing new technologies and weaponry — the largest government agency blew it. 

In my short time in the Senate, Congress has never needed to go back to the individual earmark system of the past. In the last four years in particular, the U.S. military has devoted billions in funding for new innovations, including advanced technology in the realms of hypersonics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics. Just recently, the Pentagon awarded federal funding to 150 different researchers at 85 universities and colleges in 33 different states. No swamp lobbyists or earmarks were needed, as it was a full, open, transparent and fair competition for funding.

I will happily work with any senator who feels that there is a good idea for our troops that the Pentagon may be ignoring. But at the same time, I will strongly oppose any National Defense Authorization Act or defense appropriations bill with earmarks in it.

There’s simply no reason to go back to the old, wasteful and detrimental ways of earmarks. We need to permanently ban this bad practice.

Sen. Joni Ernst, a combat veteran, is a Republican representing the state of Iowa.

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