Monday, December 20, 2010

Conservative Alternatives to Earmarks

Earmarks are the specific designations by legislators of money appropriated by the Legislative Branch of government. Earmarks do not increase the amount of money spent, but designate it specifically instead of delegating the discretion to spend it to the Executive Branch.

Members of the United States Congress justify earmarking because the federal government takes money from the people of their districts. The representatives of the people seek to ensure that the taxpayers’ money is spent in their district, instead of in other districts, which they accomplish by means of earmarking appropriations for specific purposes. Indeed, earmarks are usually made by legislators for their own districts in order that their constituents receive their “fair share” of the benefits of their taxes.

As a result, earmarks are often made by members of Congress for special interests that might be of importance to a particular congressional district, but not necessarily to the federal Union as a whole, which is why money is not earmarked by the open legislative process, but unilaterally by individual legislators. In other words, earmarks are not considered in committee, debated in public, or ever voted upon specifically either in committee or on the floor of either chamber. Congress considers the approval of the appropriations bill as a whole. Although earmarks do not increase spending, they are symbolic of pork (spending by legislators for particular interests in their individual districts).

The moratorium on earmarks proposed by the incoming Republican Congressional majority would, therefore, increase openness and public debate because specific appropriations would have to be considered in committee and debated there, in addition to on the floor. Thus, the merits of the proposed appropriations would have to be considered instead of slipped into bills without any consideration.

Some legislators have objected to the arguments in favor of ending the practice of earmarking on the grounds that failing to earmark would violate the Separation of Powers. They argue that it is the responsibility of the Legislative Branch to appropriate money, not the Executive Branch. However, Congress has been deferring to the President to a large extent for decades, even in appropriations bills, despite the practice of earmarking. Congress appropriates sums of money, but unless Congress specifies how it is to be spent, it delegates to the President the discretion of how the money is spent. The remedy, therefore, is for the Congress to be more specific in its appropriation. Instead of earmarks, it ought to draft more specific language in appropriations bills. Such a remedy would accomplish the aforementioned benefits of a moratorium of earmarks while maintaining the Separation of Powers.

But I have a more comprehensive proposal – one that would be based upon the principle of federalism intended by the Framers of the Constitution: limit all appropriations by Congress only to matters of federal interest. Members of Congress should restrain their urge to spend money and to be seen as having enough clout to “bring home the bacon” and allow the people to keep their money in the first place, instead of allowing the federal government to take money from the people and then contending with each other over the return of that money. The practice of Congress of overtaxing and overspending and then ingratiating itself with its constituents for what morsels of their money it is able to return to the people after the federal bureaucratic middlemen have taken their cut must end.

Therefore, my solution would restore both federalism and fiscal responsibility. It would restore the rights of the states, as well as increase the liberty of the people to spend their money as they see fit.

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