In an NBC News poll taken well before this year’s election, Americans said ending earmarks for pork-barrel projects should be Congress’ top priority. Earmarks trumped immigration, lobbying reform and every other domestic issue by a wide margin. Perhaps a little too late, that message finally may have reached Capitol Hill.
With 10 pork-laden appropriations bills left in the lame duck session, Republican fiscal hawks Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina demanded the Republican Congress adjourn without passing any of them. This maneuver jeopardized an estimated 12,000 earmarks tucked into those spending bills, enraging congressional appropriators. It also terrified the Washington bureaucrats who count on large annual budget increases to expand their power. It also happens to be the right thing to do — budget jeopardy for bureaucrats is pocketbook protection for taxpayers.
To make sense of this mess, it’s worth asking how we got here. By way of example, consider the 1970 Defense Appropriations bill: It contained all of a dozen earmarks. The 2005 version clocked in at just under 3,000. Overall, more than 15,000 earmarks were attached to last year’s spending bills, costing taxpayers more that $45 billion.
After losing control of both the House and Senate, Republicans have made a statement about spending by rejecting the remaining pork-laden appropriations bills on the calendar. But astoundingly, their appropriators were eager to repeat the very mistakes that cost them the majority.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis described the effort to block December’s spending bills as a “catastrophe.” His comments are quiet resignation compared to the outrage from federal administrators who will be forced to make do without a budget increase until next year.
The Housing and Urban Development Department has made it clear that without a new funding bill, America’s streets will be flooded with the homeless. The Social Security Administration warns of layoffs, and we can safely assume that National Aeronautics and Space Administration won’t have the money to get a shuttle to the tarmac, much less to the International Space Station. Oh really?
Government programs will be fine. Just ask the people who work there. An October Federal Times poll asked federal agency employees “how much of your office’s spending could be trimmed through greater efficiencies and better planning without hurting performance?” A whopping 73 percent responded there was money to save and 30 percent indicated they could trim more than 20 percent of their agency’s spending with better planning and efficiency.
And don’t buy the argument the Jim DeMints and Tom Coburns of the world are skipping out on congressional responsibility. Far from shirking their duties, these lawmakers should be applauded for slowing down a veritable spending freight train that has seen overall federal spending increase by 49 percent since 2001.
Lawmakers need to publicly acknowledge that federal revenues are not available for their personal or campaign prerogatives before another bridge to nowhere is built or the federal government finances the world’s largest indoor rain forest. Politicians forget that tax dollars must be collected from family after family and from all across America, not some mysterious force. This money belongs to the taxpayer and is given to the government to fund necessary services, not for legislators to show off for their constituents.
Blocking bloated spending bills is good politics and excellent policy. It created an opportunity for Congress to signal voters that the message they sent Election Day was heard, loud and clear. It is also is a valuable precedent for the 110th Congress to demonstrate budgeting’s hard work can be done without thousands of parochial earmarks.
Matt Kibbe is president of FreedomWorks, a grass-roots organization dedicated to lower taxes, less government and more freedom.