Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) unwittingly highlighted the corruption inherent in congressional earmarks today, in an op-ed published in the Chicago Tribune.
Calling for Congress to “raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires,” Schakowsky quoted a constituent who supports her:
“Our country is not really broke,” said Cynthia Carranza, who directs a food pantry in Niles. Carranza has watched the increase in hungry people at her food pantry door even as government support for her program is slashed. “We’re an incredibly rich and prosperous nation. But our wealth is skewed to a very few fortunate at the top. We’re not broken, just twisted.”
Carranza’s support for government redistribution of wealth is no surprise. She may complain about the rich, but she has benefited richly from federal largesse: Carranza’s food pantry was the recipient of a $250,000 earmark requested by Schakowsky for FY 2011 in the run-up to last year’s congressional election.
Schakowsky laments that “government support” for the Niles Township Food Pantry has been “slashed,” but she certainly knows that is not the whole truth.
Schakowsky slipped the earmark request into a transportation, housing and urban development appropriations bill loaded with earmarks by other representatives. (The same bill was used by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) to direct $1 million to the National Council of La Raza for “Capitalization of a Revolving Loan Fund to be Used for Nationwide Community Development Activities.”)
Nowhere in her Tribune article did Schakowsky reveal that she had effectively paid Carranza for her opinion–nor, apparently, did the Tribune vet Schakowsky’s source.
Aside from the inherent faults in Schakowsky’s argument–e.g. the Bush tax cuts did not cause the federal deficit, raising taxes on the rich would not be enough to overcome the budget gap, and a revenue-only approach would require steep middle-class tax hikes–her dishonesty about her source undermines the credibility of her argument.
The corrupt earmark system may not account for a large percentage of government spending, but it has become a potent symbol of Congress’s disregard for its fiduciary duty to the taxpayers. Worthy social causes–like food pantries–ought to receive state, local, and/or private support, or be funded through stand-alone federal legislation.
Earmarks are a major reason Americans want spending cuts and fiscal discipline before any talk of raising taxes. Republicans argue that raising taxes, as Schakowsky and fellow Democrats want to do, would not only slow the economy and hurt jobs, but also create additional opportunities for waste and corruption.
Schakowsky has, however clumsily and inadvertently, proved that point.