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Commentary: Why we secretly love earmarks

  • Story Highlights
  • Roland Martin: John McCain and a few others rail against the flood of earmarks
  • He says most Americans aren't against them when it means money for their districts
  • Martin: If you're outraged by abuses in spending, hold legislators accountable
  • Get them to pledge not to ask for any earmarks for their districts, he says
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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Editor's note: A nationally syndicated columnist, Roland S. Martin is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith" and "Speak, Brother! A Black Man's View of America." Visit his Web site for more information.

Roland S. Martin says people rail against earmarks but people want the pork-barrel spending for their districts.

Roland S. Martin says people rail against earmarks but people want the pork-barrel spending for their districts.

(CNN) -- Whenever the opposing coach playing Texas A&M University would go off on the referees, our yell leaders -- we don't have cheerleaders -- would signal the crowd to do one of our yells that ends with, "Sit down bus driver!"

As I watched Sen. John McCain stand up and go on one of his rants about earmarks, I wanted to shout, "Sit down bus driver!"

Look, I like Sen. McCain, and to be honest, I agree with him 100 percent that Congress shouldn't be spending billions of dollars on pet projects, but I'm also realistic: no one truly cares.

Really, no one cares. Sure, there are a few folks in Congress who rail against earmarks. And there are outside pressure groups who are trying to rally the American people to voice their outrage about the process, but I firmly believe that the folks at home love to send their members of Congress to bring the bacon back home.

Yea, bacon. That comes from a pig. It's pork -- pork barrel spending. That spending comes from earmarks.

That, folks, is the real deal. Someone in Texas, right now, is crying and complaining about the earmarks put in place by a member of Congress from Pennsylvania, but they don't care a lick about the money that they are getting. And that man or woman in Pennsylvania is ripping into a member of Congress from Georgia for requesting earmarks, but you better not touch theirs!

And that's how it works in Congress. Democrats love earmarks. Republicans love earmarks. Liberals don't have a problem with them. And conservatives may talk fiscal responsibility, but it's OK as long as those earmark checks come their way.

This is the system that we have set up and lived by, and no one, and I mean no one, is willing to change the process. The spending bill before Congress contains 9,000 earmarks, accounting for a tiny fraction of the bill's total cost. That's under a Democratic president. In 2006, a Republican budget had 12,000 earmarks.

In fact, McCain put forth a bill to get rid of the $7.7 billion in earmarks, but guess what? It got just 32 votes in the Senate. That means even a few of his fellow Republicans went along with the Democrats. See, if it was that big of a deal, they would have said no.

McCain can crow all day, President Obama can implore Congress to slow down the earmarks, but the response by a big-time Democrat, Steny Hoyer, speaks volumes about whether we will see earmark reform.

"I don't think the White House has the ability to tell us what to do," said the House majority leader from Maryland.

The only true way we'll see Congress get its act together is if you -- the voters -- actually stand up and say, "Enough is enough!"

First, send the money back. If people are truly outraged about the abuses in Congress, they would say no to the money. We are hearing various governors say they will refuse some stimulus money because it has too many strings attached. OK, show me a bunch of voters who march on the offices of their member of Congress and say, "Send it back."

Don't hold your breath.

Second, when your member of Congress comes to your community association, church or business group looking for an endorsement, ask him or her to commit on the spot to ask for no earmarks as a condition for your support. And then have them sign a pledge showing that they accepted.

Third, if the member of Congress refuses to agree to end all earmarks, then demand that they publish in their district newsletter and on their Web site all earmarks requested, and those approved.

Folks, if you truly want to see Congress clean up its act, you're going to have to make them do it. And the only thing you have that they want is your vote. So leverage it. Otherwise, don't squawk about earmarks because it's just wasted breath.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin.

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