Is Ron Paul Right About Earmarks ?

The Club for Growth calls his thinking backwards and alleges that he’s enabling more and more spending, Don Surber just calls him daft, but Ron Paul has an argument in favor of earmarks that does make sense:

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Speaking of a lot of money, the battle about the money they’re spending on Capitol Hill and, ironically, this guy is being targeted as maybe spending the most or at least earmarking the most for his constituents. He says it isn’t fair.

But we thought it only fair to give him his due and explain what is going on. I’m talking about Texas congressman and former presidential candidate, Ron Paul.

Congressman, the rap is that you’re a porker, that — that a lot of pork, $73 million-plus, went to your district. Is that true?

REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS: Well, it might be.

But I think you’re missing the whole point. I have never voted for an earmark. I voted against all appropriation bills. So, this whole thing about earmarks is totally misunderstood.

Earmarks is the responsibility of the Congress. We should earmark even more. We should earmark every penny. So, that’s the principle that we have to follow and the — and the responsibility of the Congress. The whole idea that you vote against an earmark, you don’t save a penny. That just goes to the administration and they get to allocate the funds.

(…)

The principle of the earmark is our responsibility. We’re supposed to — it’s like a — a tax credit. And I vote for all tax credits, no matter how silly they might seem. If I can give you any of you of your money back, I vote for it. So, if I can give my district any money back, I encourage that. But, because the budget is out of control, I haven’t voted for an appropriation in years — if ever. …

I don’t think the federal government should be doing it. But, if they’re going to allot the money, I have a responsibility to represent my people. If they say, hey, look, put in a highway for the district, I put it in. I put in all their requests, because I’m their representative.

Here’s Paul’s full interview with Cavuto:

Paul also made a similar defense of earmarking on the House floor:

I think Paul has a point here and that much of the attention that is paid to earmarks is either (1) a waste of time or (2) a diversionary tactic that keeps people from paying attention to the things that really cause government spending to increase.

Let’s take the recently passed Omnibus Spending Bill as an example. Out of the approximately $ 400 billion in spending that the bill authorized, only $ 8 billion constituted “earmarks” — that’s a mere 2% of the entire bill. For the Federal Budget as a whole, the number is close to 1 %. Eliminate earmarks and the Omnibus Bill would’ve been $ 392 Billion; and eliminating earmarks would have no real impact on a $ 3.6 trillion Federal Budget.

So, why all the attention paid to such an insignificant part of the budget ? Personally, I’ve got to believe that there’s no small degree of political opportunism going on here. Earmarking is easy to criticize because it seems like pork-barrel politics at it’s most petty level. And, for an up-and-coming Congressman, or a Senator with dreams of moving down Pennsylvania Avenue to a larger, more oval, office, it’s an easy target to pick and claim that you’re “fighting government waste.” In reality, of course, you’re

There’s another aspect to the earmarking debate that I touched upon in this comment to a post over at Jason Pye’s blog which discussed this post by a liberal blogger on the issue:

The other argument that Flack doesn’t really mention is the idea that if Congress wasn’t earmarking these appropriations, then it would be faceless bureaucrats in the Executive Branch who would be deciding which money went where.

Viewed that way, one could say that earmarks are a weapon Congress is using to assert it’s authority over the Executive Branch.

I don’t know. Personally, I’ve never been able to get myself as excited about earmarks as some others. The problems we face are far bigger than whether some fruit fly researcher in Iowa gets a grant.

That’s the reality of the situation; if Congress weren’t earmarking the appropriations bills, then all of the decisions about where the money would go would be left to the Executive Branch.

When you look at it that way, it really becomes a question of whether you want that decision in the hands of democratically elected legislators who will, at some point, stand for election, or by faceless bureaucrats in the Executive Branch doing the President’s bidding. As little regard as I have for Congress, I’d rather have that decision in their hands.

On the whole, though, I just can’t help thing that all this angst over earmarks is much ado about very little. If you’re really serious about cutting spending and stopping (and reversing) the growth of government, it’s time to start talking about the things that really matter.

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  • http://thelibertypapers.org/2005/11/22/a-bit-about-kevin/ Kevin

    I don’t have a problem with earmarks in principle, indeed Congressmen should know the needs of their constituents and districts better than DC bureaucrats.

    What I do have a problem with is earmarking money for unconstitutional things such as shrimp research (which is a Ron Paul earmark), Bridges to Nowhere, money for private universities, and especially money to reward campaign contributors and political allies.

  • http://gordonunleashed.com/blog/ Stephen Gordon

    I generally agree with your assessment on earmarks. However, I find Bridges to Nowhere and the Congressmen who make it to the top of pork lists issues which are easy to identify and criticize in a public forum.