11 April 2008

The Truth about Earmarks

The only people interested in this post will be those who follow U.S. politics (the Aussie contingent can move on to the next post). "Earmarks" are misunderstood as to the mechanism by which they distort federal fiscal policy. The current (Bush) administration has proposed limiting earmarks. Representative Ron Paul explains the subtleties of this entity:
Contrary to popular belief, adding earmarks to a bill does not increase federal spending by even one penny. Spending levels for the appropriation bills are set before Congress adds a single earmark to a bill... Since reforming, limiting, or even eliminating earmarks does nothing to reduce federal spending, I have regarded the battle over earmarks as a distraction from the real issue – the need to reduce the size of government... Since the president’s executive order would not reduce federal spending, the practical result of such an executive order would be to transfer power over the determination of how federal funds are spent from Congress to unelected federal bureaucrats.

Madame Speaker, the drafters of the Constitution gave Congress the powers of the purse because the drafters feared that allowing the branch of government charged with executing the laws to also write the federal budget would concentrate too much power in one branch of government. The founders correctly viewed the separation of law-making and law-enforcement powers as a vital safeguard of liberty. Whenever the president blatantly disregards orders from Congress as to how federal funds should be spent, he is undermining the constitutional separation of powers.

Congress has already all but ceded its authority to declare war to the executive branch. Now we are giving away our power of the purse. Madame Speaker, the logical conclusion of the arguments that it is somehow illegitimate for members of Congress to control the distribution of federal funds in their district is that Congress should only meet one week a year to appropriate a lump sum to be given to the president for him to allocate to the federal government as he sees fit.

However, we must not allow earmarking reform to distract us from what should be our main priority – restricting federal spending by returning the government to its constitutional limitations.
It's unfortunate (though perhaps not surprising) that the only presidential candidate who campaigned for reducing the size of the federal government was not popular (enough) with the voting public.

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