I am used to being all alone. I was the only “no” vote in the Senate on the Everglades Restoration Act. Three years later, major publications said I was right and the other 99 were wrong. In 2002, I was alone in exposing the global-warming hysteria as a hoax. Now I have been vindicated on that issue as well. As the only conservative Republican to vote against the earmark moratorium within our conference, I find myself alone once again. But, as before, I eventually will be proved right. My opposition to the moratorium is based on my concern that Congress would be ceding its constitutional authority to the president, while failing to save a single taxpayer dime and distracting from the real issue of out-of-control deficit spending.
A politically correct ban on congressional earmarks will give President Obama even greater power and authority in the expenditure of taxpayer funds. In other words, in the case of Mr. Obama, he would have more money to pursue his liberal agenda. No wonder he was so quick to endorse a ban on congressional earmarks.
With this greater power, the Obama administration will embark on its own bureaucratic earmarks, which will result in the same type of spending that we saw from the stimulus bill, which did not contain a single congressionally directed spending item. These types of presidential earmarks will mean spending millions of tax dollars for turtle walkways, toilets in national parks, research on the mating habits of insects and equipment to find radioactive rabbit droppings. Lobbyists already have been hitting up federal agencies at increased rates. A ban on congressional earmarks will only further increase the number of lobbyists seeking influence with the executive branch.
Congress would then be nothing more than a rubber stamp for Mr. Obama’s spending requests. Transparency, accountability and the public’s recourse would greatly diminish. Currently, members of Congress must make public notice of their spending requests in advance, then be held accountable by voters. However, a ban on congressional earmarks would result in the public being kept in the dark until a year or more after a presidential earmark already has been spent. At the same time, voters would be powerless to hold faceless bureaucrats accountable. What’s worse is that the whole process would be pushed into Washington’s darkest corners, outside the public’s purview.
That is not how our Founding Fathers envisioned our government. That is why, when writing the U.S. Constitution, they gave Congress, not the executive branch, the power of the purse. Writing in the Federalist Papers, James Madison noted that Congress holds this power for the very reason that it is closer to the people. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story noted in 1833 that if this authority were given to the president, “the executive would possess an unbounded power over the public purse of the nation; and might apply all its monied resources at his pleasure. The power to control, and direct the appropriations, constitutes a most useful and salutary check upon profusion and extravagance, as well as upon corrupt influence and public peculation.” Congress should not cede this authority to the executive branch.
Minus real reforms from Congress to reduce spending, such as my HELP Act, which would save taxpayers $10 trillion by freezing non-security discretionary spending at 2008 levels, federal spending will continue to spiral out of control. Why? Because banning congressional earmarks won’t save a single taxpayer dime. If an appropriations item that is directed by Congress is removed (or an attempt is made to remove the item), the money does not return to the Treasury to pay down the debt. Instead, the bottom-line expenditure amount remains the same, and the money is put into the hands of the executive branch, in this case, Mr. Obama, to spend how it sees fit. Given that the overall number and dollar amount of earmarks has decreased steadily over the past several years while the federal deficit has increased by $3 trillion in just two years, an earmark ban is not the answer to our fiscal problems. To say otherwise is just plain wrong.
Eliminating all earmarks would have additional consequences. Vitally important earmarks, such as to provide improved armor that has saved lives for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Predator drone program, which has been vital in the war on terrorism, would not be possible if the ban were in place. Both are examples of congressional earmarks that never would have been funded by the administration. To be clear, many things that are proposed to be authorized and appropriated should be defeated. But we should defeat them based on the substance, not simply because they are called earmarks.
Unfortunately, the years of demagoguing earmarks have distracted the American people from the real fiscal problems that face our nation. We must do something to stop runaway spending. Ironically, the two authors of the ban, my good friends Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, both supported the $700 billion bailout and the $50 billion President’s Plan for Emergency AIDS Relief bill, two of the largest measures of 2008. That same year, the Office of Management and Budget calculated total earmark spending at $15 billion. So, by supporting just those two measures, they obligated the government to 50 times the total of all earmarks for that year.
There is a simple solution to the earmark problem that I have been advocating for more than five years. All we have to do is redefine “earmark” as spending that has not been authorized, meaning it has not been approved by the committee of jurisdiction. Then eliminate all earmarks - no exceptions. That’s all. Problem solved. Then we can go after the real problems, the big stuff like the debt and the deficit.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, was rated the most conservative senator in 2009 by the National Journal and most outstanding senator by Human Events.
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