The clock is ticking as the Senate prepares to vote on a one-year earmark moratorium. With appropriators and lobbyists mounting a last-ditch effort to save their pork-barrel projects, earmark warriors took the Senate floor to deliver passionate pleas for a temporary timeout.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a freshman from Missouri, was the first Democrat to sign on to Sen. Jim DeMint’s amendment to freeze earmarks for one year. Her brave stand against pet projects doesn’t sit well with her party’s leadership. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) have all come out in opposition to DeMint’s plan, and Conrad could try to sabotage it with an earmark-friendly alternative. That didn’t keep McCaskill quiet, however. In an eloquent floor speech, she criticized the earmarking process and said history proves that Congress can operate differently.
McCaskill was joined on the floor by DeMint (R-S.C.), who said Congress’ addiction to pork prevented lawmakers from tackling other serious issues. DeMint said pork-barrel projects had left a stain on Congress, and that by taking a timeout, lawmakers could regain the trust of citizens who have grown tired of hearing about wasteful spending.
Despite the heightened criticism, some lawmakers failed to see the writing on the wall. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) attacked the DeMint amendment because he said “it saves absolutely no money.” And behind the scenes, appropriators and lobbyists tried to undermine the effort.
The attacks prompted a swift response from long-time earmark critic Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who sought to correct the appropriators’ misrepresentations.
Claim: Earmarks are part of Congress’ solemn Constitutional duty.
Response: If earmarks were such an important constitutional duty, why did Congress wait nearly 200 years before starting up the earmark favor factory? The number of earmarks went from a few dozen in the mid-1980s to tens of thousands today.
Claim: Members of Congress shouldn’t leave spending decisions to faceless bureaucrats. As former House Speaker Denny Hastert said, members of Congress know best where to put traffic lights in their district.
Response: In many cases local governments, local Chambers of Commerce and local citizens, not Washington politicians, know best. Plus, dollars should be handed out based on merit, not political connections.
Claim: Enacting an earmark moratorium is a symbolic gesture that won’t save money.
Response: If members of Congress decided to quit earmarking they could reduce the budget by the amount they would have earmarked. Congress is not a helpless victim to the budget rules it sets for itself. Congress has the power to unilaterally eliminate spending whenever it chooses. Moreover, earmarking drives spending higher because it is both a tool of coercion and a source of distraction from the oversight work it ought to be doing.