Wash. Post opinion page asked congressional Republicans -- but not Dems -- "whether federal budget earmarks are defensible"

››› ››› LILY YAN

No Democratic members of Congress were quoted in a Washington Post opinion article asking "members of Congress and others whether federal budget earmarks are defensible"; the three members of Congress whose responses were listed are all Republicans. This is consistent with a pattern in the media of portraying earmarks as a practice unique to Democrats.

On its March 15 opinion page, The Washington Post "asked members of Congress and others whether federal budget earmarks are defensible." The three members of Congress whose responses were listed -- Sen. John McCain (AZ), Rep. Ron Paul (TX) and Rep. Jeff Flake (AZ) -- are all Republicans; no Democratic members of Congress were quoted. The Post's omission of contributions by Democratic lawmakers is consistent with a pattern Media Matters for America has identified in the media of portraying earmarks as a practice unique to Democrats. In fact, regarding the FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act that many of the contributors referenced, roughly 40 percent of the earmarks included in the appropriations act were reportedly requested by Republicans. None of the seven contributions provided by the Post noted that Republicans sponsored many of the earmarks in the appropriations act, or that an analysis by independent budget watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense reportedly found that six Republican senators are among the top 10 sponsors of earmarks in the appropriations act.

From the March 15 Washington Post opinion page:

The Post asked members of Congress and others whether federal budget earmarks are defensible. Below are contributions from The Post's Robert G. Kaiser, Sen. John McCain, American Enterprise Institute's Norman J. Ornstein, Rep. Ron Paul, the Concord Coalition's Charles S. Konigsberg, Rep. Jeff Flake and former deputy transportation secretary Mortimer L. Downey.



Republican senator from Arizona; 2008 presidential nominee

The signing into law of the flawed omnibus appropriations bill was an expensive missed opportunity, and it represents status quo Washington at its worst. We are in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis; Americans are losing their jobs, their savings and their homes. We simply must rein in wasteful pork-barrel spending.

Yet while President Obama promised change, it has not been delivered. There were nearly 9,000 earmarks in the $410 billion appropriations bill. Congress funded projects such as $1.7 million for pig odor research in Iowa and $2 million for the promotion of astronomy in Hawaii. Americans should be upset to learn that $9.4 million is going to clients of the PMA Group, a lobbying firm recently raided by the FBI for suspicious campaign donations and forced to shut down.

Congress had the opportunity -- and the obligation -- to strip these questionable earmarks, but those of us who tried found our efforts defeated, 52 to 43.

The simple answer to preventing corruption is to authorize these projects before appropriating taxpayers' dollars. We owe it to the American people to conduct ourselves in a way that reinforces, rather than diminishes, the public's confidence in those they elect. Instead of signing an earmark-laden bill, the president should have used his greatest power, the veto pen, to demand and institute real reform.



Republican representative from Texas; candidate for president in 2008

To fight earmarks is to fight for an even more powerful executive branch. It is popular these days to condemn earmarks in the name of fiscal conservatism. The truth is that they account for less than 2 percent of the spending bill just passed. And even if all earmarks were removed from the budget overall, no money would be saved. That money would instead go to the executive branch to spend as it sees fit. Congress has the power of the purse. It is the constitutional responsibility of members to earmark, or designate, where funds should go, rather than to simply deliver a lump sum to the president.

Earmarks actually provide a level of transparency and accountability to federal spending. Consider the $350 billion that was recently given to the Treasury Department for the Troubled Assets Relief Program. The Treasury has not been forthcoming about where much of that ended up. If every bit of it had been earmarked, at least we would know something about how it was spent.

Instead of fighting earmarks, we should empower Congress to audit the Federal Reserve, which creates and spends trillions of dollars without any real transparency or accountability.



Republican congressman from Arizona

Members of Congress defending the contemporary practice of earmarking usually posit two arguments. First, they try to assign to earmarks some noble, constitutional pedigree. They stand in the House or Senate chamber and indignantly intone that the Constitution authorizes, yea, demands, that legislators exercise the ability to award no-bid contracts. The ultimate straw man, the "faceless bureaucrat," too clueless to see how constructing an indoor rain forest in Iowa is a national priority, is usually conjured up to complete the imagery. It's a rather sad spectacle, really.

When functioning properly, Congress discharges its Article One responsibilities by authorizing programs and projects, appropriating money to fund these priorities, and conducting oversight to ensure that the money is spent in the manner that was prescribed. Earmarking by individual members is a way to circumvent this process, not fulfill it.

The other argument that defenders of earmarks generally retreat to is "earmarks represent just a fraction of the federal budget." In truth, earmarks leverage higher spending everywhere else. Would last week's omnibus spending bill, which increased overall discretionary spending by some 8 percent, have passed without the 8,600 earmarks it contained? Probably not. The same is true for many budget-busting appropriation bills.

And I haven't even addressed the inherently corrupting nature of a process where lawmakers can secure no-bid contracts for their campaign contributors. But with the Justice Department investigating PMA Group, I suspect that this issue will come to the fore soon enough.

Posted In
Economy, Budget
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