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Reading this headline in the New York Times—“Leaders in House Block Earmarks to Corporations”— might give the impression that some serious reform is underway on Capitol Hill, right? Wrong. As usual with our esteemed members of Congress,  it’s all about appearance. The appearance of doing something while actually doing nothing. And again, as usual, there are loopholes big enough for Patton’s Third Army to march through.

For instance, the ban on earmarks only applies to for-profit companies, allegedly. Which means that:

“Under the new restrictions, not-for-profit institutions like schools and colleges, state and local governments, research groups, social service centers and others are still free to receive earmarks. The new restrictions, for example, would still allow the type of award to local governmental agencies that became infamous in 2005 with Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere.”

Loophole No. 2:

“In addition, billions added to the defense bills for existing national security programs under contract with major defense companies such as Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman probably would not be affected.

For example, when House appropriators add more funds for Boeing’s C-17 cargo aircraft, they do not disclose them as earmarks. Instead, they are considered programs essential to national security even though none of the funds are requested by the Pentagon. These funds benefit lawmaker districts where the weapons systems are built.”

So what’s the point? It’s all about “image,” “appearances” and “optics.”

“House Democrats, in a bid to rehabilitate the image of a committee long mired in ethical mishaps, announced the Appropriations panel would not approve earmarks for for-profit corporations…”

“…For Pelosi, it clearly seemed to be a bid to simultaneously rehabilitate her party’s image and that of the Appropriations Committee, several of whose members were cleared in a wide-ranging ethics probe last month.”

“…Practically, many understand this rule means very little. Defense insiders say the proposal, especially without the help of the Senate, is an empty stab at reform…But optically, the move was important for Democrats.”

“…Democrats still think it’s a step in the right direction for the body as a whole, even if just for the sake of appearances. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a second-term member, said he doesn’t earmark for private entities and still is able to help defense contractors in Connecticut with federal projects.”

“I think it helps some of the optics with some of the members who I think are for earmark reform,” said [Rep. Joseph] Crowley [D-NY].”

Better headline: “Congress’ Eternal Quest, How Can We Fool ‘Em Today”

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