When earmarks were good Congressional policy

Once  upon a time earmarks on legislation promoted the best inventions, and consequently, the economic success of the United States.  Below is the image of a vote count made by Samuel F. B. Morse on the bill to provide money to develop the telegraph.  Image and the text of explanation both come from the Morse Collection at the  American Memory Project at the Library of Congress.

Member list of the U.S. House of Representatives, with notations by Samuel Morse on vote of February 23, 1843

Member list of the U.S. House of Representatives, with notations by Samuel Morse on vote of February 23, 1843

By 1842, funding from the U.S. Congress was essential if the now-impoverished Morse was to be able to build and prove his telegraph system. On February 23, 1843, his bill for appropriated funding passed in the House of Representatives by a slim majority of 89 to 83 (with 70 not voting), but obviously every vote was crucial. This annotated member list of the twenty-six states may have been used by Morse before, during, or after the vote. The symbol “O” is thought to indicate an assenting vote, “-” a dissenting vote, and “>” no vote.

11 Responses to When earmarks were good Congressional policy

  1. EIB says:

    our government is now officially a strong monopolized business that has allot of power *scary*


  2. James Hanley says:


    I grew up in Monroeville–so not too far from you. Both my brother and I used to work at Southtown Mall. Last time I was there it had about 5 stores left–a really spooky post-apocalyptic movie feeling.

    Funny thing, just last week my brother and I were wondering if Navistar/IH still had any presence in Fort Wayne. Our aunt and uncle worked there until they retired (many decades ago now). So now you’ve answered that question for me.

    Good luck with your move to Illinois. Best wishes for a smooth transition.


  3. Jim says:

    Hi James!

    My goodness, what a small world it is. We live southeast, too. If you’re familiar with the Trier Ridge area — just east of what used to be Southtown Mall — that’s where we are. Been here 22 years, but this is the last. My Mrs. works for Navistar (formerly International Harvester — another big newsmaker here in 1982) and they’re finally pulling the plug on Fort Wayne for good. They’ll be moving to Lisle, Illinois and us with ’em. I won’t miss a lot of things about here — but I’m finally going to get to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to paying taxes! Ha!


  4. James Hanley says:

    Hey, Jim, a Fort Wayne native here. The 1982 flood is one of my great memories. Fortunately I lived out in the SE part of the county, so we didn’t suffer from it. I do remember having a good time sandbagging, and my brother met his wife while sandbagging, so clearly those floods were a good thing that’s been destroyed by government interference. (Just kidding!)


  5. Jim says:

    I am certainly not opposed to earmarks. Earmarks in my community have saved countless lives and homes from flooding. Fort Wayne, built on three rivers, has long been beset by horrendous flooding. But earmarks and good, old-fashioned “big gub’mint” spending, have enabled contractors to — over a couple decades — widen and improve our rivers. Flooding here is rare now, and usually minor. That’s just one positive example of the efficacy and common decency of earmarking and spending in general. There is not enough bandwidth for us to tell the whole story of how many lives have been saved, jobs have been created and communities have been improved by supposedly “evil” government spending. So I’m on board.

    I will say, however, that critics of federal spending and earmarking have a point. I concede — readily and enthusiastically — that the vast majority of the vocal critic of spending (think Tea Party) are selfish, hyper-ventilating, mindless hypocrites. And because they would drastically overreach, we must drastically defend spending. The very concept is important because it speaks to the concept of community and union, rather than individuality and social Darwinism. Yes, sign me up!

    If the conversation ever matures and actually becomes two-sided, however, I hope we are willing to entertain the very real possibility that some federal spending…some earmarking…is stupid. Wasn’t it Vice-President Gore who discovered that someone was still drawing a salary in 1993 — with full benefits — to sit in a federal office and (do what?) manage the 1976 Bicentennial? Talk about a George Costanza dream job! Did the Lawrence Welk homestead really hold significantly sufficient promise of generating tourist income for North Dakota to justify a half million dollars of spending? 1.8 million dollars was earmarked in 2010 for a Neon Sign Museum in Nevada.

    It was liberal lion William Proximire who was among the first spending watchdogs in Congress that I can remember. Perhaps Ed, being a slight shade older I think, can recall some others. The Wisconsin Democrat was a firebrand when it came to criticizing silly spending. I think the critics are right — only insofar as they criticize individual earmarks and not the concept in general. Down that road, one can see Somalia from your front porch. Perhaps the Tea baggers and Birchers would move us in that direction. But count me out.

    Still, to borrow a phrase from Bill Clinton, I believe there are systems and practices that — though they should not be ended — must be mended. Earmarking and spending among them.


  6. Nick K says:

    BY the by, Mark Kennedy is pretty much the last Republican i had any respect for. He understood what his job was, he eschewed the ideaology that his party loves to engage in and he did his job. If he ran against his successor, Michele Bachmann who doesn’t even attempt to do her job, he’d likely have my vote in a New York minute.

    Simply and bluntly put the Republican party has put their rich and powerful owners ahead of whats best for the country. They simply don’t give a damn if you, I, Ed, Morgan, Lower or anyone else in the middle class lives or dies.


  7. Nick K says:

    Veha, let me buy you a little clue here.

    The main road that goes through my town is state highway 241. My town is about 20,000 people and the road is…or rather was….2 lanes..one lane in each direction. Now that road is one of the main roads in my county used to get from points further west in the county to the freeway…which lies on the east side of my town. So by 2015 it was projected that 40,000-50,000 cars would use that road every day. Which is rather a lot. So the then mayor of my town worked with the county, state and eventually the federal government to get funding to upgrade the road to four lanes. Our federal representative, a Republican by the name of Mark Kennedy, was instrumental in procuring that funding help from the Feds. Are you saying he shouldn’t have? Because that was an earmark he procured us. The states take was do it now because they probably wouldn’t be able to help for another 50 years.

    The point being its a bit simple minded to paint “all earmarks are bad.” It kind of depends on the situation and what the earmark is for. Secondly, there is…well Ed brought it up himself so I won’t repeat it. But considering that we had no defecit until George W Bush started his two misbegotten wars and enacted his even more misbegotten tax cuts to the rich…you might want to reevaluate what you said. Are wasteful earmarks part of the problem? Yeah. But I haven’t seen the Republicans, the so called party of fiscal responsibility, do anything to actually work towards lowering the defecit. After all..they pretty much held the Federal Government hostage until they got their precious tax cuts to the rich extended. And now they’re even less bent on worrying about the defecit…except in using it as a weapon to further attack and weaken the middle class by demanding that the middle class make sacrifices while the rich and the powerful aren’t asked to sacrifice a damn thing.


  8. Ed Darrell says:

    What used to be in “once upon a time”, has long since gone “down the drain”, to borrower your phrase. Items which politicians like to earmark no longer have to do with justifiable and credible projects. Earmarks and their advocates have contributed to AT LEAST fifty percent of this Republic’s national debt and deficit.

    1. Bet you can’t tell us what share of the current federal budget goes to earmarks.

    2. Bet you can’t name $10 billion in earmark spending you disagree with.

    I look forward to your attempts to answer.


  9. Nick K says:

    Veh writes:
    Earmarks and their advocates have contributed to AT LEAST fifty percent of this Republic’s national debt and deficit.

    Right…the wars and the tax cuts had nothing to do with it….


  10. vehoae says:

    Oh, sorry — I forgot to leave my contact info on the previous comment: http://stillstandingup.wordpress.com. Also, http://www.vehoae.com. Also, http://consciencebreachingsocialamnesia.wordpress.com


  11. vehoae says:

    What used to be in “once upon a time”, has long since gone “down the drain”, to borrower your phrase. Items which politicians like to earmark no longer have to do with justifiable and credible projects. Earmarks and their advocates have contributed to AT LEAST fifty percent of this Republic’s national debt and deficit. Nowadays, so-called “earmarks” are a ruse, a sound byte, for the public. All of the preliminary arrangements for what will be referred to as a setaside within an appropriation bill take place via other communications. To name just a few: memoranda, face-to-face meetings, texting, telephone conversations, and meddling by lobbyists, members of the Executive Branch,the media, international power brokers, and the United Nations. The Executive Branch’s consistent administrative manipulation of its departments’ budgets is another way that appropriations are out-maneuvered. Case in point: Congress still is withholding approval of legislation for programs funded in relation to the U.N.’s sustainability rules (i.e. ECLEI, Agenda 21, climate control, etc.). However, departments’ budgets have been manipulated by the past four Administrations, at a minimum, in order to funnel billions of dollars to the states, as well as to other countries, for use on Agenda 21/ECLEI projects.

    Even though I ended twenty-nine years with the Executive Branch a decade ago, it still makes me sick to my stomach to read legislation, agency budgets, and presidential executive orders. I worked for one of the most politically-motivated agencies in existence, handling congressional liaison and in distributing billions of taxpayers’ dollars for various community development projects. Friends I left behind who still have a few more years to reach retirement are currently taking “early out” offers in exponential numbers. Guess who is filling those vacancies? Checking the hiring stats for the current ruling regime.

    Hate to be so depressing on just the second day of a new year. But, in the words of someone I look up to: “Truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable!”

    Blessings….vehoae, 1/2/11


Please play nice in the Bathtub -- splash no soap in anyone's eyes. While your e-mail will not show with comments, note that it is our policy not to allow false e-mail addresses. Comments with non-working e-mail addresses may be deleted.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: