The Bible says that salvation cometh by hearing, but some believe salvation cometh by earmarks. One congressman has compared government spending with eternal salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Earmarks are dedicated spending amendments that congressmen often attached to larger, “must-pass” legislation. They fund projects in thee congressman’s home district, typically awarding the contract to a specific vendor. Since most earmarks support indefensible projects that could never garner enough votes to pass on their own, congressmen often trade votes or use them to cow straying members into supporting bills favored by the leadership. For most, the potential for abuse and bribery holds the whiff of corruption; for one congressman, earmarks pave the way to the New Jerusalem.
Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri – who earned national media coverage by closing a prayer with the phrase “amen and awoman” – told NPR that bipartisan meetings to haggle over pork-barrel vote-swapping “used to be time where everybody was, ‘Hallelujah,’ I mean Republicans, Democrats, dancing, kissing. This is the time to be saved.”
Not only is that blasphemous, but anyone who has watched the congressional appropriations process knows that it produces no savings of any kind. Congressional Republicans and President Barack Obama joined forces to do away with earmarks in 2011.
Cleaver, an ordained United Methodist pastor, undoubtedly spoke allegorically. However, it’s worth finely parsing the words of Rep. Rev. Cleaver, as leaders in Congress plan to bring earmarks out of retirement.
The chairs of the appropriations committees – Pat Leahy in the Senate and Rosa DeLauro in the House – want to make a pact. They must bring salvation back. When Congress legislates, earmarks will be there.
Instead of “earmarks,” congressional leaders now call them a “Community-Focused Grant Program.” However, the massaging of therapeutic language does nothing to improve the substance. Over the years, congressional earmarks have funded such programs as:
- A $3.4 million tunnel underneath Highway 27 in Tallahassee for turtles to avoid traffic;
- Alaska’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere”; and
- A $15,000 study of the effects of alcohol on the motor functions of rodents.
The move to bring back earmarks, even in an amended form, has triggered backlash from both sides of the aisle.
“Earmarks are the ‘broken windows’ of government overspending, the currency of Congressional corruption, and the price of bad votes for more spending,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. He led numerous pro-taxpayer organizations in drafting a letter warning congressional leaders against reviving the now-dormant practice.
While these wasteful programs may sometimes seem humorous, earmarks pose far more serious risks to our body politic. They bring with them the possibility – and all-too-often, the reality – of bribery. Former California Republican Randy “Duke” Cunningham was sentenced to eight years in prison for taking $2.4 million in kickbacks for steering federal funds to defense contractors. The late Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., faced two bribery probes: one for Abscam and another “to funnel earmarks to sham companies and nonprofits to benefit the lawmaker’s friends and former staffer,” which the FBI was investigating upon his death. In 2010, the media exposed how then-Rep. Kendrick Meek tried to procure federal funding for a bio-pharmaceutical park in Liberty City, Florida, on behalf of a man who paid Meek’s mother $90,000 and leased her a Cadillac Escalade. Meek lost his Senate bid; now he works for the lobbying firm Kirk & Spalding “as a senior advisor to a diverse group of companies in the healthcare, homeland security, agriculture, and financial services sectors.”
Obviously, government spending projects have been a snare and stumbling block to many people in public service. The potential for earmarks to distort the legislative process should concern anyone who thinks biblically about the public square.
Bribery is one of the few political sins condemned consistently by the Old and New Testaments alike. In Psalm 26 (the lavabo), the Psalmist declares, “I will wash my hands in innocence” and not be like wicked men, “whose hands are full of iniquities, and their right hands are full of bribes.”
If federal spending could guarantee salvation, it would be a program well worth funding. In reality, big, unconstitutional government has led too many souls astray and has the potential to pervert justice. The evidence shows that big government itself represents a “near occasion of sin.”
Scripture tells us to look elsewhere for our redemption: “Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Peter 1:18-19).
To congressmen, I’d humbly offer the advice: Put not your trust in earmarks, in which there are no salvation. Wash your hands in innocence; wash your hands of this scheme. And trust in the One and only means of our salvation.