As I write this, Mitch McConnell is privately trying to get enough votes to kill an earmarks moratorium among Senate Republicans. The measure is sponsored by Senators Coburn, Cornyn, DeMint, Ensign, and Enzi, along with Senators-Elect Ayotte, Johnson, Paul, Rubio, and Toomey.
Senators McConnell, Inhofe, and others say earmarks make up a very small part of the budget and to get rid of them would put all the power in the hands of the Obama administration. These two points sound good, but they miss the point. It is always helpful to be reminded of why earmarks are so bad.
And we should call on Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans to join the House Republicans in stopping earmarks.
For self-described conservatives, it is easy to be pro-life, pro-troops, and pro-tax cuts. In most races, that is not how you separate the wheat from the chaff. You separate them on the basis of their belief in limited government—in short, do they think that government should do stuff. Period. And there is no better bellwether of politician’s proclivities toward limited government than whether they request and defend earmarks.
I know, I know. Many defenders of the Republican establishment don’t want us to talk earmarks. Earmarks are not the problem! They amount to such a small portion of the federal budget. Earmarks are the only way to deal with an intransient bureaucracy. They divide Republicans when we should be focused on battling the Obama Administration’s liberal agenda. Earmarks are the only form of constitutional spending and need to be defended no matter how unpopular. Its about the CONSTITUTION—didn’t you know??
The arguments are many, but they are all full of holes.
Yes, earmarks amount to a small percentage of the budget and compared to the enormity of the entitlement crisis of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid they are miniscule. But as Jeff Flake and Tom Coburn have said before, earmarks are the gateway drug to higher spending. If a politician thinks his reelection bid is in jeopardy because he won’t be able to deliver a bike path or high-speed rail project to his district, it is inconceivable to think that that same politician will sign up for allowing people to redirect their FICA taxes to personal accounts or slow the growth of Medicare. Earmarks erode the ability to say no to more government, and they corrupt often-good politicians with the enjoyment and the power of directing other people’s money to those who come to them and ask. And at times, earmarks directly enable increased government when they are used to buy lawmakers off. It is standard procedure for powerful Chairmen to demand that anyone with earmarks in a bill vote for the overall bill lest the projects get struck. Look no further than the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase.
Yes, earmarks afford lawmakers with an avenue to trump some nameless bureaucrat from sending all the federal dollars somewhere else, but then why are you so set on federal dollars flowing to your district? If you believe in limited government, why do you want your district to get its “fair share”? Let’s take the most conservative of earmarks—highway projects. For instance, a vital bridge or intersection that will alleviate traffic. Never mind that the federal interstate system has long been built, but highway funding could be devolved to the states so that the vast majority of districts (305) are not donor districts, meaning they contribute more in gas taxes than they get back. The whole point of the high way program is now to earmark and to give federal lawmakers power to direct taxpayer dollars. But do you think this sort of federalist argument would be made by an earmarxist? No, they would be spending their political capital getting theirs too.
Yes, Congress does have the power to spend money, but the vast majority of earmarks are spent on completely unconstitutional projects and activities. Lets take some of the earmarks requested by Senator Jim Inhofe (who we hear has been on quite the war path lately in defense of earmarks). Did the Founders really envision the federal government paying for developing curriculum in the Tulsa public schools for students at risk of dropping out ($195,000) or a river ferry boat program in Oklahoma City ($1.7 million) or an “engineering incubator” in Norman ($137,200)? What clause of the Constitution do those fall under exactly?
Yes, earmarks are “divisive” and making it an issue is bound to put many Republicans in a difficult spot. Sorry, but that’s really not my concern. After all the attention paid to earmarks over the last few years, if politicians are still earmarking—not matter how “transparent” (the ready-made reform for any earmarxist)—they can’t say they were not forewarned. In fact, they very likely think they can get away with it. Also, a Republican Congress isn’t worth having if its not going to a conservative one, filled with men and women who believe in limited government and can say no to those who come to the federal government asking for more. Do we really want to spend all this time and effort working to get so-called conservatives elected who fail us yet again?
Of course not. So let me say it. Earmarks are certainly not the only issue, but they are the most telling as to whether Republicans really have learned their lesson in the minority. Here is what I suggest:
- Do not accept the conservative bona fides of any politician who has failed to take the moratorium or who argues for them.
- Do not allow any politician to speak to a tea party rally unless they have taken such a pledge.
- Criticize any “agenda” or any “contract” from any Republican leader or Republican entity which doesn’t include an immediate, unilateral earmark moratorium.
It is time to purge the earmarxists from the conservative movement.