Yesterday, many of us in the National Writing Project were keeping careful tabs (no doubt, peeping into the news during the day) to follow the fate of a US Senator proposal to eliminate “earmarks” in the federal budget. The amendment by Sen. Coburn would have effectively gutted the NWP and some other educational groups whose federal funding support are considered “earmarks” attached to the federal budget. The Coburn proposal would have instituted a three year moratorium on any earmarks.
The amendment did not pass muster (see the short piece in Slate). The vote tally was 39-56, with 67 needed for passage.
But my guess is that earmarks are an endangered species in DC because, although they represent only a small portion of the budget, they are huge with political symbolism of waste and fiscal irresponsibility. How it is that NWP funding got lumped into the earmarks is something I am not privvy to nor do I really know much about the political workings of the NWP at that level.
But I think a huge push has to be made to shift NWP, Reading is Fundamental and other educational organizations out of that earmarks category, if possible. In fact, it makes me uneasy, knowing that NWP is lumped in there. If the public sees earmarks as wasteful spending, how will they view the NWP as part of that? Check out this interactive map for how earmarks are played out across the country, and it is so clear that our politicians (yep, mine, too) use the earmark process for financial gifts to their districts.
Here in Massachusetts, in fiscal year 2010, we had $176,803,000 in earmarked funds. I am sure much of those funds were put to good use (bike trails, roadway improvements, etc.), but it seems like there needs to be a better mechanism than jamming funding for projects onto whatever bill is before you (such as the Coburn Amendement itself, which was attached to a Food Safety Bill).
On a side note, both of my senators — Sen. Scott Brown (r) and Sen. John Kerry (d) — voted against the Coburn moratorium, so I hope that means that our calls to their offices had some effect. (See how your senators did)
Is it good or bad that the moratorium was not enacted? I suppose that is for each of us voters to decide, but the push now from the Republican Senate leadership is to kill earmarks, and my guess is that this may gain momentum in the next two years.
Our NWP network has some work to do …
Peace (in the politics),
I was holding my breath too Kevin, making the calls and wondering why we are in that category. I’m glad we are not alone. I am not a fan of Teach for America, but I’m glad they were in there with us to add to the absurdity. I wish I knew more about this budget process, but I’m glad that the NWP is savvy about politics and we have people fighting for us, seasoned in the ways of Washington.
Nice post of reflection.