Post GOP victory celebrations,conservative activists are wondering just how seriously Republicans in Washington will take their pledges to stop massive government spending. Senator James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, has publicly spoken out against an earmark moratorium proposed by Republican Jim DeMint of South Carolina. Both conservative lawmakers are at odds with the issue and Mr. Inhofe plans to defend his position further next week. Senator DeMint is already raking in a number of Republican co-sponsors for his moratorium.
The earmark ban proposal would be voted on by the GOP Conference next Tuesday. The vote would be by secret ballot and only apply to Senate Republican members. It cannot be enforced by law and would be set forth for the new 112th Congress.
“The House GOP game plan for the next Congress should did not include an earmark moratorium, so there was no broad GOP effort to say we’re going to ban earmarks,” Senator Inhofe’s spokesman Jared Young told me. “This current Congress did take a one-year earmark moratorium and Senator Inhofe back in March of this year said he did not agree with that position and quiet honestly he said it was a dumb thing to do.”
The problem, though, is not just the fact that a vast number of first time activists protesting government spending came to the U.S. Capitol a number of times since the Obama administration came to power, but Republicans lost their majorities last time in both chambers due to voter frustration that the GOP lost its way and was spending too much during the Bush years.
Below are points both sides of the issue will be debating next week. Senator DeMint may not find an ally in Mr. Inhofe with the earmark moratorium issue, but Oklahoma’s other GOP Senator, Tom Coburn, sides strongly with Mr. DeMint. In a piece written for National Review, Senator Coburn looks to debunk four myths of the earmarks debate:
1. Eliminating earmarks does not actually save any money
This argument has serious logical inconsistencies. The fact is earmarks do spend real money. If they didn’t spend money, why defend them?
2. Earmarks represent a very tiny portion of the federal budget and eliminating them would do little to reduce the deficit.
It’s true that earmarks themselves represent a tiny portion of the budget, but a small rudder can help steer a big ship, which is why I’ve long described earmarks as the gateway drug to spending addiction in Washington. No one can deny that earmarks like the Cornhusker Kickback have been used to push through extremely costly and onerous bills.
3. Earmarking is about whose discretion it is to make spending decisions.
Do elected members of Congress decide how taxes are spent, or do unelected bureaucrats and Obama administration officials? It’s true that this is a debate about discretion, but some in Congress are confused about discretion among whom. This is not a struggle between the executive branch and Congress but between the American people and Washington. READ MORE
4. The Constitution gives Congress the responsibility and authority to earmark Nowhere does the Constitution give Congress the authority to do earmarks.
The concept of earmarking appears nowhere in the enumerated powers or anywhere else in the Constitution. The so-called “constitutional” argument earmarks is from the same school of constitutional interpretation that led Elena Kagan to admit that Congress had the authority to tell the American people to eat their fruits and vegetables every day. READ MORE
Mr. Inhofe’s office released a media packet explaining his opposition to the earmark ban. Below are some of his major points:
A Congressional earmark moratorium won’t save a single taxpayer dime.
When a Congressional earmark is removed, the money is not returned to the treasury to reduce the deficit. Instead, banning or eliminating Congressional earmarks simply sends the money to the Executive Branch. The expenditure of taxpayer dollars remains at the same level with bureaucrats and administration officials allocating the funds rather than Congress. READ MORE
Banning earmarks has significant unintended consequences.
While proponents of a ban point to cases where legislative appropriations were used for wasteful spending, an across the board ban is the wrong approach. To be clear, there are many things that are proposed to be authorized and appropriated that should be defeated. But Congress should defeat them based on the substance, not simply because they are called earmarks. READ MORE
Earmarks have been part of the Congressional process since the founding of our country.
As James Madison, the father of the Constitution viewed it, appropriating funds is the job of the legislature. Writing in the Federalist Papers, he noted that Congress holds the power of the purse for the very reason that they are closer to the people. The words of Madison and Article 1 Section 9 of the Constitution say that authorization and appropriations are exclusively the responsibility of the Legislative Branch. READ MORE
Demagoguing earmarks provides cover for some of the biggest spenders in Congress.
Congressional earmarks, for all their infamous notoriety, are not the cause of trillion-dollar federal deficits (of all the discretionary spending that took place in Washington last year, earmarks made up only 1.5 percent). Nor will an earmark moratorium solve the crisis of wasteful Washington spending run amuck. READ MORE
Mr. Inhofe does have the support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, behind him on this, and a counter-proposal may be kicked around to try and gut Senator DeMint’s original proposal on an earmark ban. Mr. McConnell is critical of the ban, because it would not apply to Democrats. Last Sunday, on CBS’s Face the Nation, he said “The earmark issue is about discretion, about an argument between the executive branch and the legislative branch over how funds should be spent.”
“There are many members of my conference who have said, ‘I don’t want the president to make all the decisions about how the funds are spent that might be allocated in my state,’” he explained.
It has been suggested that more transparency is needed if earmarking is to continue, so constituents can immediately see what is being earmarked and are not left clueless until many eons later when the money has already been spent for the pork-barrel project.
Transparency is nice, but the Obama administration managed to wrangle the “transparency” term from the GOP this past year and tell the public how transparent they were. Unfortunately, it seems like “transparency” jumped the shark from the administration’s misreporting of stimulus spending data to the Democrats’ behind closed door meetings for the health care bill passage. The Republicans will have to show voters by their actions, more than anything else, that transparency is meant to benefit the public and not just a marketing ploy to throw into weekly remarks.
These spending debates are just the beginning. New name placards have not even been placed on all the outside congressional office walls yet, and members-elect are taking sides. For all the criticisms that the tea party “lost” the Senate for the GOP, one can only imagine how things will go down once all the newly sworn-in House members supported by the tea party are thrown into the mix.