There are several varieties of earmarks, each by championed by its own lobby. Here is an elementary guide to how the Washington pork is sliced.
Basic earmarks: "the bridge to nowhere" version. These earmarks are attached to unrelated bills in the dark-of-night by powerful individual congressmen for their personal political gain. Earmarks are paid for from federal taxes, but are only available to selected communities. Earmarks are worse-than-worthless to the nation, but do help their sponsors achieve long congressional careers.
Pork sausage (sometimes called bologna): "Stimulus" or "Obamacare" are perfect examples. You wouldn't want to watch congressional pork sausages being made. They are made from unsavory ingredients, and cooked-up in sweaty backrooms by grubby people with unclean hands. They are then mislabeled as being fit for public consumption. Congressional sausages have deleterious side-effects, and have been known to cause severe indigestion and other internal maladies. These pork products are palatable only to far-left taste.
Pork chops: "Congress will control how money is spent" version. In some respects, this is an entirely reasonable cut of pork because Congress is responsible for determining how taxes should be spent. Pork chops are not hidden from the public; they are discussed and voted on in committees and by Congress. Pork chops become problematic when appropriation bills are cut into smaller pieces so that Congress can "direct" how some of the money will be divided up. Using pork chops, powerful congressmen can influence which politically favored activities receive priority for funding. On the other hand, making pork chops limits the administration's discretion on how the money should be allocated; this can actually be a beneficial effect (see "bacon" below).
Bacon: "the bringing home the bacon" version. The administration is legally responsible for spending the money that Congress appropriates. The rule is, "Congress appropriates and the administration dissipates." Bacon slicing becomes a problem when appropriations that haven't already been "chopped" by Congress are spent by the administration in ways that it hopes will buy political loyalty. The administration greases its activities - sometimes known as fatback for fatcats - by granting strips of bacon to its favored supporters or projects. The administration relies on its bureaucracy to deliver the bacon. Depending on their political status, some groups get "center-cut" bacon, but others get only bacon bits.
Earmarks got their name from a cut made in a pig's ear to mark its ownership. Earmarks serve much the same purpose in politics. Funds are "carved out" of the appropriations pork, labeled with the carver's name, and placed in the pots of preferred panhandlers. Earmarks, of any variety, are at best "a pig in a poke" - of questionable value. Political earmarks are also like the expression, "in a pig's ear" - a mess or muddle (likely from drinking too much). There is also the old truism that even politicians "can't make a silk purse out of a sow's earmark."
Earmarks are a serious problem: Midnight earmarks and pork sausage endanger our national political health and should be permanently eliminated. We have created a huge hog of a government, and it is costing us dearly to keep it fed. Congressional "pork chops" and administrative "bacon" are mostly feed for this greedy behemoth.
No matter how they are labeled, earmarks are the lubrication of Washington politics. Congress slices and dices, but taxpayers are left only with are the pig's tail, feet and parts of the ears.
Rod Paramoure is a retired military officer, educator and historian living in east Cobb.