The Failed Earmark Gambit

I’m cautiously optimistic about the way the earmark ban is going.

The Insiders fell prey to their own strawman argument, or perhaps lacked the wisdom to differentiate between proper Congressional control of spending and improper overreach into local projects.  They tried to say that banning earmarks meant abandoning control of all spending decisions to the executive branch, and that’s not the case.

And they were arguing points that the people do not want addressed.

“The earmark debate is really about executive-branch versus legislative-branch discretion … Are you going to give 100 percent discretion to the president? Are you going to retain some for yourself?”

— Mitch McConnell as quoted by The Hill.

By failing to draw a distinction between on what the government should spend its money and where that spending should be done, the insiders have ruined their case before the court of public opinion.

For instance, the full Congress should, in consultation with our professional military experts, decide what kind of weapons systems, vehicles, ships, and spacecraft go in to defending our liberty from foreign assault.  Congress should not make that decision based primarily on where the stuff is built.

The process of designating a particular weapons system does involve an earmark, but it is (or at least ought to be) a “what” earmark and not a “where” earmark.

Because what angers people about earmarks is that the federal government is paying for local projects in the first place, and that the federal government controls what happens locally.  One Senator recently argued that if he wanted a bridge in his state, he didn’t want to have to beg a bureaucrat to get it.  But why should the state authorities have to beg the Senator, or the bureaucrat, or anyone except their own voters?  And one Senator has enormous power over the flow of legislation — if he is willing to use it out in the open, with the cameras rolling and voters noting.

Now, I’m not a Thuney. But he does a pretty good job taking a principled stand on the popular side of this one from EndingSpending.com:

Psst — Greta. We don’t need Congress buying trauma units.

If a bridge or trauma unit in a particular spot in your state is really all that frightfully important, introduce a bill with just that project in it. You might even be able to write the bill yourself.  Let the full House and Senate debate that project — why it has to be built there, who is designing it, and what the cost will be. Someone might even ask if what part of the Constitution authorizes the Congress to legislate on the issue. If it’s not important enough, then the federal government ought not be doing it in the first place.

Insiders point out that the spending is not that much of the budget. But the problem is the leverage these projects afford.  They’re used as Scooby Snacks, only partly because they bring in votes, but mostly because they bring in campaign contributions.   The millions bring in the thousands, and so none can resist the trillions.  But resist the trillions we must.

We in the Tea Parties do not want to be bribed with our children’s money.

This is not a question of who is conservative, who is a RINO, and who is a liberal, though generally the more liberal a politician is the more he likes pork. Earmarks are simply the mechanics by which a member of Congress assures his own reelection at the expense of the nation’s stability.

As Matt Kibbe pointed out in an interview with Cato, it’s a signal of change in the culture in Washington. The Tea Parties are responsible for that change, because lower spending now has a constituency in Washington — people who are willing to call a Congressman and ask him not to spend any money on them.

It is therefore incorrect to say that without Congressional earmarks, overall spending would be about the same.  An earmark ban is not the end, but just the start.

Why are conservative Representatives and Senators spending their time micromanaging the budget, when they should be concerned with bigger things, like figuring out how to avoid spending the money in the first place? Instead, they use earmarks to bribe themselves.  Earmarks are institutional corruption, dressed up in the trappings of legislative prerogative.

The Congress should be conforming its spending — and thus the government’s as a whole — to the Constitution, not to their favorite lobbyist’s whims and fancies.