Contact FreedomWorks

400 North Capitol Street, NW
Suite 765
Washington, DC 20001

  • Toll Free 1.888.564.6273
  • Local 202.783.3870


Senator Coburn: Claims Versus Reponses on Earmarks


The Senate is voting this week on a one-year earmark moratorium, and some so-called conservatives are trotting out questionable arguments in defense of earmarks.  Senator Coburn gave an address last night that answered these claims and his staff is circulating these arguments.

CLAIM: Earmarks are part of Congress’ solemn Constitutional duty.

RESPONSE: If earmarks were such an important constitutional duty why did Congress wait nearly 200 years before starting up the earmark favor factory? The number of earmarks went from a few dozen in the mid-1980s to tens of thousands today.

Coburn floor remarks - March 11, 2008

“The arguments we hear in defense of earmarks would be ridiculed by our Founders, after they got over their nausea.”

“Many in this body seem more interested in adhering to the constitutional scholarship of Jack Abramoff rather than James Madison.”

“This isn't an old phenomenon; this is a modern phenomenon. This is something modern that we need to change.”

“James Madison, the father of our Constitution, was very clear on this point. He said:

“With respect to the two words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers enumerated in the Constitution that are connected with it. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.”

“Earmarks are not enumerated powers. The only power they are is how we find ways to get ourselves reelected.”

CLAIM: Members of Congress shouldn’t leave spending decisions to faceless bureaucrats. As former House Speaker Denny Hastert said, Members of Congress know best where to put traffic lights in their district.

RESPONSE: In many cases local governments, local Chambers of Commerce and local citizens, not Washington politicians, know best. Plus, dollars should be handed out based on merit, not political connections.

Coburn floor remarks – March 11, 2008

“If we don't like what an agency is doing, we don't have anyone to blame but ourselves. We have the power of the purse and the power of oversight. The problem is we only use the power of the purse to spend, not to restrict.”

CLAIM: Enacting an earmark moratorium is a symbolic gesture that won’t save money.

RESPONSE: If Members of Congress decided to quit earmarking they could reduce the budget by the amount they would have earmarked. Congress is not a helpless victim to the budget rules it sets for itself. Congress has the power to unilaterally eliminate spending whenever it chooses. Moreover, earmarking drives spending higher because it is both a tool of coercion and a source of distraction from the oversight work it ought to be doing.

Coburn floor remarks – March 11, 2008

“There is a correlation between earmarks and spending, and it is this: Earmarks are the gateway drug for overspending.”

“Looking for new ways to spend money is not our job. Our job is to conduct oversight and eliminate programs that are not working. We are not doing our oversight … As the earmarks have gone up, oversight has gone down. Do you know why? Because the only thing the Appropriations staff has time to do is to barely get the bill out and then manage all the earmarks.”

“Overcoming our addiction to earmarks will help us confront the massive waste that is in the Federal budget. We have to do a top-down review of everything in this country if, in fact, we want to hold to the things that are really important, the things that are really worth our sacrifice, which is the next two generations.”