Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Senate Takes on Earmark Reform

This chart from the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management's recent hearing titled 'Earmark Reform: Understanding the Obligation of Funds Transparency Act' illustrates the the need for earmark reform in Congress. (See the Heritage Foundation's 'The Anatomy of an Earmark' for a good backgrounder).

The Obligation of Funds Transparency Act (S. 1495) is a bill sponsored by Senator John McCain. In his testimony before the subcommittee, Senator McCain provided the following background and justification for his bill:
As all of my colleagues know, the process of earmarking funds in the annual appropriations bills has lurched out of control. According to data compiled by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), in 1994, there were 4,126 Congressional earmarks added to the annual appropriations bills. In 2006, there were 12,852 earmarks. The level of funding associated with those earmarks has risen from $23.2 billion in FY 1994 to over $64 billion in FY 2006.

The Senate bill has a companion bill in the House (H.R. 1642) which is sponsored by Congressman Jeff Flake. Mr. Flake's testimony during the hearing stated that his legislation:

...takes the following steps to rein in wasteful spending, and address what I believe is at the heart of the ethical and lobbying scandals we are faced with today: lack of transparency and accountability in the handling of taxpayer money:
  • Our legislation requires that earmarks be included as part of the legislative text of a bill, rather than as part of a conference or committee report.
  • H.R. 1642 does not prevent Members of the House and Senate from seeking earmarks. However, it brings much-needed accountability and transparency to the earmarking process.
  • By requiring that earmarks be included in the legislative text, Members of Congress would have an opportunity to review the earmarks contained in an appropriations bill before having to vote on it.
  • By including earmarks in the legislative text, this bill brings accountability to the earmarking process by allowing Members of Congress to challenge any earmark by offering an amendment to strike it.
  • Members of Congress requesting earmarks would be faced with the prospect of having to defend their earmark request on the House and Senate floors. This would reduce the number of egregious earmarks.
  • H.R. 1642 would also lessen the power of the House and Senate Leadership and the Appropriations Committee over the earmarking process. This would free up rank-and-file Members to vote their conscience without fear of having their
    earmarks stripped from appropriations bills.
  • In addition, this legislation would curtail earmarks that originate in conference. This bill would require a three-fifths vote of the members of the House in order to consider a conference report that contains new earmarks that neither body has seen.

These reforms along with initiatives cajoling our legislators to simply read a spending bill (What a concept!) before they vote on it are heartening and a step in the right direction.

Senator Tom Coburn provided some much needed historical context during the hearings:

America’s greatness was built on service and sacrifice, not the politically-expedient politics of pork. There is no lost Article of the Constitution or missing Federalist Paper that gives members of Congress a blank check to fund any project they desire.

Indeed, Thomas Jefferson wrote James Madison in 1796 that allowing Congress to spend federal money for local road projects would "be a source of eternal scramble among the members [for] who can get the most money wasted in their State; and they will always get most who are meanest."

Jefferson’s prophetic warning has been borne out by the reality that there exists an indisputable linear relationship between the runaway spending of the past 10 years and an increase in earmarks.

Jefferson also provided one of the quotes highlighted by Porkopolis in its right panel:

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

Our collective ingnorance and apathy as a citizenry is what has allowed the earmark/pork barrel spending in Congress to spin out of control. We share in the blame for perpetuating a culture of fiscal unaccountability. As we sow so shall we reap.


Blogger Ben said...

that graph makes me embarrased to be a republican.

March 26, 2006 at 12:27 PM  

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