Jeff Flake On Earmarksby Doug Mataconis
Andrew Roth at Club for Growth reports on a great speech by Congressman Jeff Flake on earmarks that deserves to be reproduced:
“Mr. Speaker, I rise today out of concern for what earmarks are doing to this body. Those of us on the Republican side understand very well the political perils of this practice. Unfettered earmarking, and the corruption that accompanies it, was a major factor in putting us right where we are today: squarely in the minority.
“But there are greater concerns than which party is in the majority. I would hope that all of us, Republicans and Democrats, would be concerned about what earmarks are doing to the practice of authorization, appropriation, and oversight that has been the hallmark of this institution for more than two centuries.
“Proponents of earmarking defend the practice by noting that Article One of the Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse, and that earmarking is consistent with that responsibility. It is true that Congress has the power of the purse. But the contemporary practice of earmarking circumvents, rather than enhances, the careful execution of our responsibility as stewards of public funds.
“Take the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill that we will consider this week. Under the new earmark rules adopted earlier this year, a list of earmarks accompanies the conference report. We received that list late last week. It contains 1,300 earmarks. Are we to assume that each of these 1,300 projects have been individually scrubbed to ensure their appropriateness to the legislation?
“I suspect that, as the distinguished Chairman of the Appropriations Committee said just weeks ago, there is no way to adequately screen these earmarks given the tight appropriation schedule. The question needs to be asked: Why are we so bent on moving forward with so many earmarks when we know we can’t adequately screen them?
“I should note that no House earmarks were approved in last year’s Labor-HHS bill. Last time I checked, the world didn’t come crashing to a halt. What’s more, owing to the politics surrounding the bill, no earmarks were approved the year before that. Here again, the planets seemed to stay in their orbit. The Chairman has frequently pointed out that, until a decade ago, the Labor-HHS bill wasn’t earmarked at all. So, why are we so insistent on approving 1,300 earmarks this week, earmarks that we know haven’t been adequately vetted and scrubbed?
“Perhaps the most frequent justification for the contemporary practice of earmarking is that, quote, â€˜Members of Congress know their districts better than some faceless bureaucrat in Washington, DC.’ I’m not here to defend faceless bureaucrats. In fact, faceless bureaucrats often waste money on questionable projects in my own district. Faceless bureaucrats in federal agencies waste so much money that they need someone constantly looking over their shoulder. This is why congressional oversight is so important.
“But, let’s face it: when we approve congressional earmarks for indoor rainforests in Iowa or teapot museums in North Carolina, we make the most spendthrift faceless bureaucrat look frugal. Excess by federal agencies should not excuse congressional excess. If federal agencies don’t follow procedures requiring competitive bidding or other processes we have mandated, we should act by cutting funding and/or mandating improvements, not trying to one-up them with equally suspect appropriations.
“As an aside, we saw just weeks ago that the majority of this chamber chose to deny funding for an earmark requested by an individual member. For the record, I offered the amendment to deny funding for the “Perfect Christmas Tree Project.” There was no federal nexus and it was not a wise use of federal dollars. But it was no less worthy than hundreds of projects funded by the same legislation. I would like to conclude that the amendment succeeded thanks to the compelling case I presented, but I suspect that political payback had more to do with it.
“The distribution of earmarks is based on politics, not policy. Most appropriations bills award 60 percent of the earmarks to the majority party and 40 percent to the minority party. Is there a policy reason for this allocation that can reverse itself with an election? In most appropriations bills, well-positioned members award themselves many more earmarks than rank and file members receive. Are we to assume that districts represented by well-positioned Members are needier than those represented by less seasoned Members of Congress? In some appropriations bills, each member of the committee is given an equal share of the available dollars. Are we to assume here that these districts have identical needs?
“The truth is, we can try all we want to conjure up some sort of noble pedigree for the contemporary practice of earmarking, but we are just drinking our own bathwater if we think the public is buying it. It seems that over that past few years we’ve tried to increase the number of earmarks enough so that the plaudits we hear from earmark recipients will drown out the voices of taxpayers all over the country who have had enough. It hasn’t worked, thank goodness. For every group that directly benefits from earmarks, there are hundreds who see it as a transparent gimmick to assure our own reelection.
“Mr. Speaker, our constituents deserve better, and this institution deserves better than we are giving it. Let’s return to the time honored practice of authorization, appropriation, and oversight that has served us so well.”