The issue of pork-barrel spending is one that is both complex and widely debated. Congressional earmarks, the substance of which is popularly referred as pork-barrel spending, are part of Congress’s appropriations bills that direct how U.S. government funds shall be spent. Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution states “no money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.” In this age where the presidency is given the preponderance of media coverage and public attention, it is easy to forget that the budget the president submits merely offers guidance to the Congress as it considers where and for what the government will really spend its money.
Because the Congress is given control of government expenditures by Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, it also assumes the responsibility to be a conscientious steward of taxpayer money. Yet, though many members of Congress act with the best interests of the country in mind, there are some who abuse the system in order to increase their political clout within their districts. Thus, vast sums of money are spent in every fiscal year to fund items that are prima facie cases of wastefulness.
Mind you, vast sums truly means vast sums, numbers that would boggle the mind of most people except for the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and members of Congress. Citizens Against Government Waste, the taxpayer-lobbying group that publishes the annual “Pig Book” which exposes the Congress’s annual pork production, tallies up FY2008 pork barrel spending at more than $17 billion. That is comparable to the GDP of Iceland.
Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) have highlighted wasteful pork-barrel spending as an issue which shows clear contrast between Republican and Democratic visions for how taxpayer money should be spent. Though Democrats included earmark reform as one of their campaign pledges prior to the 2006 election, it is the Republican leadership that is actively working on improving the appropriations process.
For example, McCain in March sponsored an amendment that would have imposed a one-year moratorium on earmarks, but it was defeated by a 29-71 vote, with only five Democrats-including Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.)-voting in its favor. About the amendment’s failure, McCain lamented in a public statement, “We’re disappointed that only 29 members of the U.S. Senate understand that the American people want us to stop this practice.” Right now, Boehner is trying to get his colleagues in the House to agree to a yearlong earmark moratorium. It is becoming increasingly clear that Republicans who continue to sponsor wasteful pet spending projects do so in opposition to both the leadership and grassroots members of their party.
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders are turning their backs on the lip service they paid to curbing pork-barrel spending during the 2006 election. “Democratic leaders have sent tens of millions of dollars to freshman lawmakers’ districts in hope of protecting the party’s newfound majority come November,” according to The Hill. One would think that someone like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who promised in 2007 to “bring transparency and openness to the budget process and to the use of earmarks” would disapprove of the use of taxpayer monies for purely partisan purposes. I guess not.
A year-long moratorium would be a rather blunt instrument to deal with what is clearly a complex issue, but given the cynical attitude of the American public (RealClearPolitics.com has Congress’s approval rating hovering around 22 percent) significant steps should be taken in order to regain some of the public’s trust. Whether those steps are taken in the form of a moratorium or via meaningful reform and transparency, the American people deserve a Congress that will do their work and spend their money responsibly.
Thad BoggsFirst Vice ChairmanCollege Republicansboggstm@muohio.edu