Act on Principle

President Trump at a meeting Jan. 9 on immigration observed correctly that the system is set up to make it hard to get things done in Washington. Indeed the constitution was written so as to make it hard for legislation to pass that would restrict the freedoms of the people.  Mr. Trump has  been widely praised for this attempt to get Democrats and Republicans talking amiably and working together in that meeting.  More could be said about that but he spoiled any possibility when he floated the idea of using earmarks to improve relations between the parties, to get Republicans and Democrats to go to lunch together and get more things done.

This is an abominable idea.  Earmarks are special favors for a particular legislator’s district that almost no one else would vote for in order to induce him or her to vote for legislation with broader appeal.  It sounds like a bribe and it is.  It is full of perverse incentives.  Earmarks encourage the legislator to seek projects which have high publicity value in his district, which contain little value to the nation or which may even harm people. They are made for the sole purpose of assuring the legislator’s re-election.  That legislator by the inclusion of earmarks is then induced to vote for legislation he would otherwise consider marginal or even bad.  It encourages various interests to propose, support, lobby and attempt bribery for hundreds of earmark projects.  It shifts the focus of discussion from the merits of any significant legislation to what earmarks can a legislator get tacked onto it.  Earmarks become fodder for those who ridicule waste in government but which they hypocritically trade.

The result is poorer legislation passed because the focus is not on the legislation but on the earmarks.  Lots of money is spent on projects the sole purpose of which is to re-elect legislators and not on whether the project protects the rights of the people.  A culture of trading in favors follows.  Any obstacle is systematically torn down by throwing in earmarks.  A gaggle of lobbyists for such projects peck at legislators and encourage corruption. For this reason I oppose earmarks on the principle that they create bad legislation, corrupt the system and fail to protect the rights of the people.

But President Trump does not act on principle.  He is a pragmatist who looks short range at what will get his wall passed quickly.  He knows and acknowledged in the meeting that earmarks lead to problems in the past and indicated that protections should be put in place.  But what protections can stand against earmarks?  Just offer an earmark to any legislator who opposes your earmarks.

The only protection against bad legislation and even earmarks is principle.  Always act on what is right.  Vote for a bill on its merits.  Withhold your vote if the bill falls short.   In government the guiding principle is protecting (from initiated force) the rights of the people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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