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Sen. Tom Coburn: Earmark Myths and Realities
National Review Online ^ | November 10, 2010 | Sen. Tom Coburn

Posted on 11/11/2010 10:20:59 AM PST by neverdem

As Senate Republicans prepare to vote on an earmark moratorium, I would encourage my colleagues to consider four myths and four realities of the debate.

Myths of the earmark 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? Stopping an activity that spends money does result in less spending. It’s that simple. For instance, Congress spent $16.1 billion on pork in Fiscal Year 2010. If Congress does not do earmarks in 2011, we could save $16.1 billion. In no way is Congress locked into to shifting that $16.1 billion to other programs unless it wants to.

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. Plus, senators know that as the number of earmarks has exploded so has overall spending. In the past decade, the size of government has doubled while Congress approved more than 90,000 earmarks.

Earmarks were rare until recently. In 1987, President Reagan vetoed a spending bill because it contained 121 earmarks. Eliminating earmarks will not balance the budget overnight, but it is an important step toward getting spending under control.

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. Do the American people have the right to spend their own money and keep local decisions at the local level or does the federal government know best? Earmarks are a Washington-knows-best solution. An earmark ban would tell the American people that Congress gets it. After all, it’s their money, not ours.

An earmark moratorium would not result in Congress giving up one iota of its spending power. In any event, Republicans should be fighting over how to cut government spending, not how to divide it up.

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. That school, which says Congress can do whatever it wants, gave us an expansive Commerce Clause, Obamacare, and a widespread belief among members of Congress that the “power of the purse” is the power to pork.

Earmark defenders are fond of quoting Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution which says, “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.” They also refer to James Madison’s power of the purse commentary in Federalist 58. Madison said the “power of the purse may, in fact, be the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people.”

Yet, earmark proponents ignore the rest of the Constitution and our founders’ clear intent to limit the power of Congress. If the founders wanted Congress to earmark funds to specific recipients, micromanage American society, and ride roughshod over state and local government they would have given Congress that authority in the enumerated powers. They clearly did not.

Our founders anticipated earmark-style power grabs from Congress and spoke against such excess for the ages. James Madison, the father of the Constitution said, “With respect to the two words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.”

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison, spoke directly against federally-funded local projects. “[I]t will be the source of eternal scramble among the members, who can get the most money wasted in their State; and they will always get the most who are the meanest.” Jefferson understood that earmarks and coercion would go hand in hand.

Also, if earmarks were a noble constitutional tradition, how did we thrive for 200 years without an earmark favor factory in Congress?

Finally, for those worried about ceding constitutional authority to the executive branch, I would respectfully remind them that the president has zero authority to spend money outside of the authority Congress gives him. The way to hold the executive branch accountable is to spend less and conduct more aggressive oversight. Earmarks are a convoluted way for Congress to try to regain authority they have already ceded to the executive branch through bad legislation. The fact is there is nothing an earmark can do that can’t be done more equitably and openly through a competitive grant process.

Beyond these myths, I would encourage members to consider the following realities.

1. Earmarks are a major distraction

Again, earmarks not only do nothing to hold the executive branch accountable — by out-porking the president — but take Congress’ focus away from the massive amount of waste and inefficiency within federal agencies. In typical years, the number of earmark requests outnumbers oversight hearings held by the Appropriations Committee by a factor of 1,000 to 1. Instead of processing tens of thousands of earmark requests the Senate should increase the number of oversight hearings from a few dozen to hundreds. The amount of time and attention that is devoted to the earmark chase is a scandal waiting to be exposed.

2. This debate is over among the American people and the House GOP

If any policy mandate can be derived from the election it is to spend less money. Eliminating earmarks is the first step on that path. The House GOP has accepted that mandate. The Senate GOP now has to decide whether to ignore not only the American people but their colleagues in the House. The last thing Senate Republicans should be doing is legislative gymnastics to get around the House GOP earmark ban.

3. Earmarking is bad policy

In recent years the conventional wisdom that earmarks create jobs has been turned on its head. The Obama administration’s stimulus bill itself, which is arguably a collection of earmarks approved by Congress, proves this point. Neither Obama’s stimulus nor Republican stimulus — GOP earmarks — is very effective at creating jobs.

Harvard University conducted an extensive study this year of how earmarks impact states. The researchers expected to find that earmarks drive economic growth but found the opposite.

“It was an enormous surprise, at least to us, to learn that the average firm in the chairman’s state did not benefit at all from the unanticipated increase in spending,” said Joshua Coval, one of the study’s authors. The study found that as earmarks increase capital investment and expenditures by private businesses decrease, by 15 percent specifically. In other words, federal pork crowds out private investment and slows job growth. Earmarks are an odd GOP infatuation with failed Keynesian economics that hurts local economies.

Earmarks also crowd out funding for higher-priority items. Transportation earmarks are a good example. Pork projects like the Bridge to Nowhere and bike paths divert funds from higher priority projects according to a 2007 Department of Transportation inspector general report. Thousands of bridges continue to be in disrepair across America in part because Congress has taken its eye off the ball and indulged in parochial spending.

4. Earmarking is bad politics

If the Senate GOP wants to send a signal that they don’t get it and are not listening they can reject an earmark moratorium. For Republicans, earmarks are the ultimate mixed message. We’ll never be trusted to be the party of less spending while we’re rationalizing more spending through earmarks. The long process of restoring fiscal sanity in Washington begins with saying no to pork.

Sen. Tom Coburn represents the state of Oklahoma in the U.S. Senate.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Crime/Corruption; Editorial; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: coburn; deficit; earmarks; pork; porkulus; spending; tomcoburn

1 posted on 11/11/2010 10:21:01 AM PST by neverdem
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To: neverdem

. 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. Do the American people have the right to spend their own money and keep local decisions at the local level or does the federal government know best? Earmarks are a Washington-knows-best solution. An earmark ban would tell the American people that Congress gets it. After all, it’s their money, not ours.

An earmark moratorium would not result in Congress giving up one iota of its spending power. In any event, Republicans should be fighting over how to cut government spending, not how to divide it up.

Thank You for making my point of defunding and defeanging Gov’ Agencies. Sen. Coburn, just because the American People have give the Congress the Power to spend our money does not mean you MUST spend it.

I guess you haven’t heard Senator Coburn WE ARE BROKE.

Until Congress starts seriously talking about repealing obamacare they are all liars.


2 posted on 11/11/2010 10:28:25 AM PST by Marty62 (Marty 60)
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To: neverdem

Good point by Sen Coburn! We need to end earmarks and cut the size of government!!!!! Not freeze hiring in Government!


3 posted on 11/11/2010 10:30:52 AM PST by tallyhoe
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To: neverdem

4. Earmarking is bad politics

If the Senate GOP wants to send a signal that they don’t get it and are not listening they can reject an earmark moratorium. For Republicans, earmarks are the ultimate mixed message. We’ll never be trusted to be the party of less spending while we’re rationalizing more spending through earmarks. The long process of restoring fiscal sanity in Washington begins with saying no to pork.


We will soon know if the RINO Senators are able to kick the earmark addicts.


4 posted on 11/11/2010 10:39:03 AM PST by Presbyterian Reporter
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To: neverdem
Since the Commerce Clause seems to be one of the most, if not the most abused powers, let's amend it to read "...regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes"

Let the states regulate themselves. Competition in today's world will resolve any imbalances. I'd be willing to accept the resultant risk if it would in any way constrain our out-of-control Gov't.

5 posted on 11/11/2010 10:39:55 AM PST by Thom Pain (November 2, 2010. Step ONE)
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To: Marty62
Coburn knows....

Believe me....

6 posted on 11/11/2010 10:50:59 AM PST by Osage Orange (MOLON LABE)
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To: neverdem

What the earmarks whores are not talking about is the real damage earmarks are doing, in helping to get terrible bills like Obamacare passed. So it’s not the cost of the earmarks, its that they are used to buy votes and pass legislation that will have a negative impact on all Americans.

Earmarks are bribes for votes and a way to bury the bribe in thousands of pages of drivel. The earmarks seldom have any connection to the bill they are hidden it.

Bad politics indeed. We are expecting transparency, everything appropriated needs to stand on it’s own merits and in broad daylight. If the GOP doesn’t eliminate earmarks, it’s the first indication of politics as usual and the first step towards the death of the GOP and the emergence of a conservative party in the country.


7 posted on 11/11/2010 10:58:36 AM PST by Beatthedrum
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To: Presbyterian Reporter

We would save a lot more than 16B if you consider the fact that a lot of the earmarks were used to buy votes on big ticket bills that might not have been approved without the earmarks.


8 posted on 11/11/2010 10:59:56 AM PST by soundapproach
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To: neverdem

I agree that the debate over earmarks is a distraction. In fact I would call it misdirection. And after they eliminate them, however temporarily, they can crow about it while avoiding the heavy lifting.


9 posted on 11/11/2010 11:04:39 AM PST by Hugin ("People will usually tell you their bad intentions if you take the time to listen"--- Open Range)
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To: neverdem

What I hate about them is the way they’re used to either pay back their backers or to pay their families in “created” jobs.


10 posted on 11/11/2010 11:11:06 AM PST by Terry Mross
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To: neverdem

The Congress needs to show that it is serious about American concern by eliminating earmarks and IMMEDIATELY taking a 20% pay cut!


11 posted on 11/11/2010 11:11:34 AM PST by Trunk 71-74 (A god that needs man to carry out his dirty work is impotent!)
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To: neverdem

The Congress needs to show that it is serious about American concerns by eliminating earmarks and IMMEDIATELY taking a 20% pay cut!


12 posted on 11/11/2010 11:12:08 AM PST by Trunk 71-74 (A god that needs man to carry out his dirty work is impotent!)
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To: neverdem

Earmarks are not just a bribe to the politician to vote for a questionable bill, they’re ultimately a bribe to the voters.

The politician trots back to their home state and brags about the millions and billions that they’ve gained at the expense of the taxpayer to get reelected.

Earmarks have corrupted the relationship of a politician to his constituents.


13 posted on 11/11/2010 11:12:57 AM PST by Brett66 (Where government advances, and it advances relentlessly , freedom is imperiled -Janice Rogers Brown)
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To: Osage Orange

I believe you...but, the excuse...we have to spend your money to keep the Prez from spending it doesn’t wash.
(That excuse was used by Inhofe)But, my big issue right now is that the supposed Deficit Reduction discussion has not address Repealing Obama Care. That should be done immediately.

As one talk show guy (didn’t catch his name) said. We are at the point where we must go back to the Constitution. And discuss the actual authority that Congress holds.

Most of the Fed Agencies can and should be desolved and their issues sent ot the States for enactment, IF those States so desire.


14 posted on 11/11/2010 11:13:20 AM PST by Marty62 (Marty 60)
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To: Thom Pain

I would believe, and favor utilizing the word “regulate” with foreign nations, and Indian tribes, but the word “arbitrate” amongst the States.

I believe that is self explanatory.


15 posted on 11/11/2010 11:21:05 AM PST by rockinqsranch (Dems, Libs, Socialists, call 'em what you will, they ALL have fairies livin' in their trees.)
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To: neverdem

Like it or not congress but getting rid of earmarks has become a litmus test for many Americans as to whether you are SERIOUS about changing your ways this time.


16 posted on 11/11/2010 11:24:30 AM PST by DManA
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To: DManA

I’d like to see Congress defund the American-hating U.N.

hey,I can dream.


17 posted on 11/11/2010 11:26:52 AM PST by WOBBLY BOB ( "I don't want the majority if we don't stand for something"- Jim Demint)
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To: Marty62
I think Coburn can tackle more than one thing at a time....

Yeah...Inhofe is way wrong on earmarks. And he calls Coburn "his junior Senator"....LOL!!

Inhofe better be careful...or he could become unemployed next time he's up for election.

18 posted on 11/11/2010 11:28:14 AM PST by Osage Orange (MOLON LABE)
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To: neverdem

Senator Coburn, I am an Oklahoman and you represent me in the U.S. Senate. I agree with you 100%. Now, could you do me a favor and please explain this to the other idiot Senator from Oklahoma James Inhofe who said on KTOK radio this morning that earmarks are in the Constitution?


19 posted on 11/11/2010 11:29:03 AM PST by titanicsuccess
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To: WOBBLY BOB

I agree there are more important problems then earmarks but this should be considered low hanging fruit. Do all the easy stuff first and THEN you can dig in and tackle the hard stuff.


20 posted on 11/11/2010 11:29:24 AM PST by DManA
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To: Osage Orange

Agreed!


21 posted on 11/11/2010 11:30:59 AM PST by Marty62 (Marty 60)
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To: neverdem

No matter what the Supposed pros and cons are, the reality is earmarks equal donations to their campaigns.....period.


22 posted on 11/11/2010 11:34:31 AM PST by radioone (Proud to be an enemy of Obama)
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To: titanicsuccess

What is up with Inhofe? I actually like him. Conservative. Had the guts to speak out against global warming when many other Republicans went along with the PC opinion.

I don’t understand why Inhofe does not see that ‘earmarks’ are symptomatic of the problem with government. Representatives “prove” their value by bringing home the bacon while the Federal Government dictates more and more of our lives.

Abolish the Department of Education for starters.


23 posted on 11/11/2010 11:46:05 AM PST by Bayou Dittohead
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To: titanicsuccess; All

“Senator Coburn, I am an Oklahoman and you represent me in the U.S. Senate. I agree with you 100%. Now, could you do me a favor and please explain this to the other idiot Senator from Oklahoma James Inhofe who said on KTOK radio this morning that earmarks are in the Constitution?”

Senator Inhofe is conservative and certainly better than any Democrat. However, I believe years of alcohol abuse have clouded his brain a bit.


24 posted on 11/11/2010 12:12:22 PM PST by Sola Veritas (Trying to speak truth - not always with the best grammar or spelling)
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To: rockinqsranch
I believe that is self explanatory

thats the rub tho, since 'shall not be infringed' depends entirely on 'the definition of IS' and it takes 20-30 YEARS to even get an incoherent USSC ruling, Id rather just eliminate the temptation of commies to bastardize the words...

25 posted on 11/11/2010 12:31:37 PM PST by Gilbo_3 (Gov is not reason; not eloquent; its force.Like fire,a dangerous servant & master. George Washington)
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To: neverdem

Spot on. BTTT


26 posted on 11/11/2010 12:59:14 PM PST by 1010RD (First Do No Harm)
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To: Beatthedrum

Very good point. While earmarks don’t represent a lot of money relative to the size of the budget they are used to gain the votes of members on behemoth government expanding bills like Obamacare.


27 posted on 11/11/2010 1:05:29 PM PST by trappedincanuckistan (livefreeordietryin)
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To: Thom Pain

Imagine a bill under the Commerce Clause allowing you to buy insurance across state lines, forgoing any mandates within your state and thus being ruled for purposes of health insurance by another state’s insurance rules.

That would create instant competition and a real free market in insurance.

Can you imagine the lowering effect on health insurance prices that would have?

We have a real opportunity to restore the free market, keep Congress in our hands for decades and wound Obama and his socialist/progressive allies forever.


28 posted on 11/11/2010 1:12:29 PM PST by 1010RD (First Do No Harm)
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