Jim Inhofe's Fiscal Folly

Mere days after House Republicans finally put their fiscal house in order and enacted a year-long moratorium on earmarks, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) took to the airwaves to decry the irresponsible actions of…House Republicans.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but in Sen. Inhofe’s world, one taxpayer’s dollar is another lawmaker’s party favor.

“The inconvenient truth is that we do have a problem with earmarks in America,” he warned Monday from the Senate floor.  “But it’s not congressional earmarks.”  Sen. Inhofe believes the real crime is so-called presidential earmarking, perpetrated by “unelected bureaucrats” throughout the federal government who recklessly throw money away with no supervision or accountability.  He may well be right.  But where do those bureaucrats get the authority to spend the money in the first place?

According to Sen. Inhofe, the authority for unelected bureaucrats to waste money on “presidential earmarks” comes directly from – you guessed it – Congress.

“We’re supposed to do the appropriations and spend the money that comes in,” said Inhofe.  “That’s what we’re supposed to do.  That’s our constitutional responsibility.”

With one hand, Sen. Inhofe scolds the executive branch for spending money on projects he approved, while with the other he writes and approves billions in earmarked spending.  For example, when given a chance after Hurricane Katrina to divert funding from the wasteful Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska to the devastated Twin Spans Bridge in New Orleans, Sen. Inhofe sided with the $230 million Bridge to Nowhere and the 50 inhabitants on the island it would serve.

As is the case with many of those addicted to political pork, runaway spending is always somebody else’s fault.  If the executive branch is wasting money, it’s not because poor Congress just hasn’t done enough earmarking; it’s because Congress gave up on real oversight in order to focus on more earmarking.

But Sen. Inhofe didn’t just use rhetoric in his broadside against earmark opponents, he also appealed to the authority of the Founding Fathers.  Sen. Inhofe’s floor speech referenced the writings of an unlikely ally:  James Madison, the fourth president of the U.S. who is often referred to as the father of the U.S. Constitution.  While Madison did refer to the congressional “power over the purse” as “the most complete and effectual weapon,” he most certainly never endorsed anything that resembles the modern earmarking process.  In fact, in 1817 Madison vetoed a public works bill – the very type of bill that Sen. Inhofe himself used to write as chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works – precisely because it was loaded with local projects that were unrelated to the national interest.

“I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling the bill with the Constitution of the United States,” President Madison wrote in his veto message.  “The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified and enumerated in the 8th section of the first article of the Constitution; and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers[.]”

Notwithstanding his current crusade to save earmarks from extinction, the Oklahoma Republican who was first elected to public office in 1966 has not always been such a rabid earmarxist.  Just two years ago, when he was running for re-election, he fully supported an even more expansive earmark moratorium than the one just adopted by House Republicans.  For all his current caterwauling against earmarks, Sen. Inhofe proudly co-sponsored a year-long, Congress-wide earmark moratorium in 2008 offered by Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in 1841, “With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.”  If Emerson was correct, when it comes to earmarks, Jim Inhofe’s soul will never be in search of work.