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The definition of an earmark

Updated on September 11, 2011

In President Obama’s speech the other night the word earmark came up in his presentation. The statement made is no more earmarks. Understanding what constitutes an earmark puts the statement by President Obama in perspective. The question which needs to be asked is how he will make sure this promise is fulfilled. Earmarks are basically amendments placed into legislation that have no chance of passing Congress on their own. Congress has certain authority and responsibilities as identified in the Constitution and earmarks in a way are actions which tend to be associated with events that may not be covered under the authority granted to Congress in the Constitution.

Amendments are added to almost any legislation progressing through Congress. This is part of the process established as provided in the Constitution. Earmarks are actions presented by a Congressman or Senator which involve flowing some tax dollars into their respective districts. The key as to whether these actions are justified distinguishes a normal amendment from an earmark. Legislation being enacted and the amendments attached to them must be supported by evidence that the requested funds satisfy a real need for each community or state.

Earmarks have been a way of life or culture of our elected legislative officials in Washington for years. Eliminating earmarks will not be easy given the nature of the process and the inability of the President to remove them from legislation being presented to him for signature. To better explain what constitutes an earmark they are amendments to legislation that have no justification for passage. The supporting data basically does not exist. In some cases they involve actions for which the community involved does not even want or need them. They are basically an action to give exposure as to what an elected official is doing for their community and does not necessarily do anything for the nation. This may not always be the case but the perspective of an earmark is that it is something that cannot stand on its own merits.

Legislation and any amendments must be supported by the need for them. In other words there needs to be justification for the amendment to be added to the legislation to which it is attached. The process of adding amendments to legislation being evaluated needs to be revised. I agree that amendments to legislation are more than likely needed to enhance the legislation. What needs to be changed in this process is the criteria to allow amendments to any given legislation. If an amendment does not have any connection to legislation it should be rejected. This change to the process will not only make legislation better but it will add integrity to the process.


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    • Dennis AuBuchon profile image

      Dennis AuBuchon 6 years ago

      Thanks for stopping by and providing your input and information. The legislation you referenced requiring the specific authority to be cited from the Constitution in legislation is great. It does however leave open the possibility of a difference of opinion on whether the authority actually exist within the Constitution.

    • FitnezzJim profile image

      FitnezzJim 6 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

      Concur on your statement of current concern, and your statement of desired end-state. Have you consider writing a letter to your congressman?

      On 7 January 2011, The House passed House Resolution number 5 - 'Adopting rules for the One Hundred Twelfth Congress.' Rule number one indicates 'All bills and joint resolutions must cite the specific powers granted to Congress in the Constitution that allow the enactment of the legislation.' (this is almost word-for-word from one of my Hubs) I looked up this resolution (www.House.Gov, select Bills and Votes, enter H.Res.5 for a bill number search, then follow the pdf link … anyone can do this) and reviewed to see if there was any wording indicating applicability to amendments. I saw nothing that jumped out at me indicating that this procedural requirement applied specifically to amendments. However, I know zero about the inner workings of Congress, so it may be that any amendment comes forward as a resolution, and the requirement applies. Perhaps one of your readers can comment.

      All that said, I’d concur on favoring a system that does not involve deciding for the individual States and Congressional districts at the Federal level how money is to be routed to individual entities within those States and Districts. That implies to me (just my one unschooled opinion) micro-management, likely to not be within the realm of federal responsibilities, and consequently wasteful. However, I have no alternative to offer.

      You can find and write your congressman at /writerep/welcome.shtml