Wednesday, December 08, 2010

GUEST COLUMN: "Banning Earmarks – A Small But Important Step to Budget Sanity" by Rep. Jean Schmidt

By Rep. Jean Schmidt

Over the last several years we have heard a lot about Congressional earmarks in the federal budget. According to Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), the practice of Congressional earmarking began in earnest in the 1980s.  Generally speaking, the practice of Congress providing funding to specific projects or entities has been growing ever since.  CAGW estimated that the annual appropriations bills passed by Congress in 1991 contained around 546 earmarks costing approximately $3.1 billion.  By 2010, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service estimated that there were some 11,320 earmarks worth $32 billion – 1.5% of all appropriations – passed by Congress.  By any measure, the practice of earmarking has certainly gotten out of control.

No matter the origins or merits of earmarking, American taxpayers have had their fill of it.  They are tired of seeing their tax dollars spent on the latest government boondoggle – a new bridge to nowhere, a seemingly silly research project or to feather somebody’s own nest.  And, as Congress fights “to bring home the bacon,” projects of national significance, such as the Brent Spence Bridge, sit idly for lack of funding.

Last year, Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to discontinue the practice of earmarking.  I was proud to support that moratorium and when we convened earlier this month, I was proud to join a majority of other Republicans in continuing the moratorium.

As many people know, saying no is harder than saying yes. Disappointing people isn’t fun, but the country is facing a serious financial struggle to keep its expenses in line with its income.  Under the Obama Administration’s guidance, non-defense, discretionary spending has increased some 84%.  Our national debt totals more than $13 trillion and making a dent in that will require some very difficult choices.  It seems absurd that funding for the Appalachian Fruit Laboratory would be considered in the same debate as extending the life of the Social Security Trust Fund as we go about the necessary prioritization of federal funding.  While eliminating earmarks will not solve the budget problems, allowing them to continue certainly can’t help.
Unfortunately, like other old habits, this one dies hard.  A Senate proposal to end the practice for three years failed last week.  The Senate’s inability to deal with this issue at the moment is disappointing, but it’s not the end of the debate.

Reform does not always happen as fast as we would like, but the actions of the new majority in the U.S. House show that we are heading in the right direction. It is my hope that members of the U.S. Senate will soon join us in restoring the public’s trust in the budget process.