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GOP Supports Earmark Ban … for Now

In less than a week, some GOP leaders have changed their tune on earmarks. But is it because they finally listened?

by
Howard Nemerov

Bio

November 16, 2010 - 10:18 am

The Hill reports:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Monday that he will join a GOP effort to ban congressional earmarks.

McConnell went on to state:

And unless people like me show the American people that we’re willing to follow through on small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on our broader efforts to cut spending and rein in government.

Perhaps Senator McConnell read columns like this one that appeared over the weekend, because last week he was against banning earmarks.

Appearing to shy from his campaign promise to ban earmarks, Kentucky Senate-elect Rand Paul proposed an alternative: push for funding Kentucky projects during committee hearings. As Brian Doherty says at Reason:

Of course it’s not all that clear that the committee process, which often enough involves blatant horse-trading, is all that much less corrupt than earmarking, but at least it’s a bit more open.

Two days later, Paul clarified his earlier comments to Fox News, saying: “It was confusion over a reporter not understanding what I was saying.”

Perhaps he’s just letting on that there are other, “creative” ways for politicians to funnel your tax dollars to their favorite special interests or state boondoggles.

In any case, it is incumbent on American voters to pay attention to actions, not rhetoric. Talk is cheap and easy, but debt and taxes are expensive, and both cause economic hardship.

McConnell also said: “I’m not wild about turning over more spending authority to the executive branch.”

There may be some truth to this, which means that the people need to pay attention to all the president’s earmarks as well.

Meanwhile, President Obama appeared to contradict McConnell:

I welcome Sen. McConnell’s decision to join me and members of both parties who support cracking down on wasteful earmark spending, which we can’t afford during these tough economic times.

Data from campaign finance watchdog Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) should give us pause before taking all the above rhetoric to heart.

During the 111th Congress (fiscal year 2010) Senator McConnell was responsible for over $113 million in earmarks; over $14.5 million went to his campaign contributors.

Senator Inhofe, who earlier scoffed that an earmark ban “doesn’t accomplish anything,” spent another $73.3 million on earmarks.

But these two reluctant supporters of an earmark ban are small potatoes compared to President “cracking down on wasteful earmark spending” Obama, who was responsible for $20.9 billion in earmarks for fiscal year 2010. More importantly, nearly all of it (over $20.5 billion) is categorized under “No recipient identified,” which means only a forensic accountant may be able to determine where your taxes went.

Elected officials spent a total of $37.8 billion on 11,856 earmarks for major budget legislation like Defense ($9.6 billion)  and Housing and Urban Development ($3.4B).

The House spent a total of $10 billion on earmarks; $1.3 billion of this went to campaign contributors. The Senate spent another $11.2 billion; $918M went to their “sponsors.”

Politicians slipped in about $42 billion worth of earmarks for fiscal year 2010. (Due to their hidden nature, that’s an estimate.) This may be a drop in the bucket compared to a $1.5 trillion deficit. But if, as Senator McConnell stated, banning earmarks is so “small,” it’s reasonable that everybody support this modest proposal as an easy place to start reining in the budget.

There’s some good news: Speaker-in-waiting Boehner was one of the few representatives with no earmarks. His leadership may influence many House members, including freshmen congressmen.

Unfortunately, analyzing the fiscally responsible list reveals more bad news: 253 of 258 (98%) Democrat representatives and 140 of 177 (79%) Republican representatives spent your tax dollars on earmarks. In the Senate, 97% of Democrats and 88% of Republicans supported earmarks, too.

As Lord Acton said in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” With all the money, power, and interns floating around Washington, D.C., it’s imperative that constituents stay involved, and hold federal office holders accountable for their actions.

Former civilian disarmament supporter and medical researcher Howard Nemerov investigates the civil liberty of self-defense and examines the issue of gun control, resulting in his book Four Hundred Years of Gun Control: Why Isn’t It Working? He appears frequently on NRA News as their “unofficial” analyst and was published in the Texas Review of Law and Politics with David Kopel and Carlisle Moody.
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