Not so fast: Another quiet earmark in an ‘earmark free’ Congress

· May 16, 2016  
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New Balance 530 Vazee shoes | Flickr

On Tuesday a few conservatives in the House will stand up to special interests and lobbying groups the only way they can: without anyone watching or caring.

After a seven year lobbying campaign by New Balance, Inc., Reps. Bruce Poliquin (R-ME) and Niki Tsongas (D-MA) have managed to slip a provision into this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would compel the Department of Defense to purchase footwear for enlisted personnel exclusively from New Balance.

How do Poliquin and Tsongas expect to pull off such an explicit special interest carve out? Simple. They are counting on their colleagues to look the other way. 

Section 808, the provision in question, is a textbook example of big government forces legislating profits for well-connected companies that agree to play ball. Currently, the Defense Department spends about 17 million dollars per year providing cash allowances to recruits to spend on footwear of their choice.  Of the 13 options available, New Balance already provides four (ASICS and Brooks products comprise the remainder).  New Balance is now angling to excise its competitors altogether and recoup the share of federal dollars that have thus far eluded them.

According to sources at the DOD, providing the same amount of variety for recruits under Section 808 that currently exists today could raise that 17 million dollar expenditure to roughly 333.5 million.

The corporate spinsters have rolled out their usual gamut of linguistic deceptions, desperate to conceal the blatant cronyism at work. New Balance is claiming that because it is working alongside a second company, Saucony-Wolverine, the NDAA language does not squelch competition. What they neglect to mention, however, is that Saucony-Wolverine is in the earliest stages of “investing in” prototypes that may or may not prove compliant with DOD standards. This company has no ability to compete with New Balance because it has no government-approved product to offer. (Should it ever develop one, the most the spinsters could then claim is that the earmark now has two beneficiaries instead of one.)

Not coincidentally, the two champions of this deal, Poliquin and Tsongas, both have significant New Balance presence in their home districts: nothing like mutually beneficial corporate favoritism to bring about merry bipartisanship!

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) has stepped up and called this arrangement out for what it is: Washington corruption at its worst.

One of the things Congress promised to move away from were earmarks, benefitting a single company at the expense of the marketplace as a whole and competitors in general. Oftentimes we have de facto earmarks, wherein it’s not technically an earmark but it only fits one company, and in this case it only fits one company.

Sanford has submitted an amendment to the House Rules Committee to strip out the protectionist provision and disentangle U.S. servicemen from the plot to serve the well connected.

As usual, the powers that be will stymie this story and do everything possible to shut down debate on Tuesday. The media will ignore it and status quo cronyism will proceed uninterrupted.

The power class does not want us to notice conservatives like Sanford fighting to change this town. Let’s do what we can to have their backs.


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Author: Daniel Horowitz

Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.