The Senate’s Most Conservative Member: Eliminating Earmarks Won’t Save One Dime
Okahoma's James Inhofe has a message for the Tea Party movement -- don't be fooled by the "War On Earmarks."
Oklahoma’s James Inhofe has been called the Senate’s most conservative member by National Journal, he has a lifetime rating of 97.66/100 from the American Conservative Union and gets an A from the National Taxpayers Union, and he’s telling the Tea Party that the war on earmarks is the wrong battle to fight:
Tea party activists are stepping up their involvement in an internal Senate GOP battle over whether to ban earmarks – and Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe is pushing back aggressively.
Inhofe has engaged in a behind-the-scenes effort aimed at convincing tea party groups of the value of earmarks, including by circulating a 20-page document that makes the case that it’s Congress’ job to appropriate money and that a number of projects are rooted in the national and local interest.
The 75-year-old, four-term senator, who boasts of being the most conservative senator, has been relentless, according to several accounts.
Moments after the Tea Party Patriots issued a missive to 200,000 members backing the earmark ban, Inhofe tried to reach one of the group’s leaders on her cell phone. When he couldn’t connect, he tried again. When that was unsuccessful, his staff sent text messages urging her to call him back.
Finally, one of the group’s co-founders, Mark Meckler, returned Inhofe’s phone call Wednesday. It was a brief conversation, where Inhofe said he wanted to provide Meckler’s group with an essay entitled “the secret about earmarks” that said eliminating them “won’t save taxpayers a single dime.” And he urged Meckler to give the essay to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who is the chairman of the tea party-aligned Freedom Works.
That essay appears today at Politico, and Inhofe unloads both barrels against the “war on earmarks” crowd:
Shh! There’s a secret about earmarks: Eliminating them won’t save taxpayers one dime. Instead, the money will get turned back to President Barack Obama so he can direct spending as he sees fit.
In light of this, it is no wonder that Obama is willing to support the ban and join the Republican senators who, for years, have demagogued about congressional earmarks. On Election Day the American people sent the message to Washington that it is time to reduce government spending, repeal Obamacare and cut taxes. A moratorium on earmarks would only serve to increase the amount of money Obama has to spend.
This year, the House, in its earmark ban, defined “earmarks” as authorizations and appropriations — precisely what Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution states Congress is supposed to do.
So a ban on earmarks doesn’t save one dime. It does, however, do three things: 1) It trashes the Constitution and violates our oath of office; 2) it cedes Congress’s power to authorize and appropriate to the president, and 3) it gives cover to big spending.
Inhofe also addresses the argument that many on the right have made that earmarking helps increase overall spending:
Others call earmarks a gateway drug that needs to be eliminated to demonstrate that we are serious about fiscal restraint. There is just one problem with that: It’s not true.
Earmarks have steadily decreased over the past few years, according to the Office of Management and Budget and federal spending watchdog groups.
So while the total number of earmarks and the overall dollar amount of earmarks have been declining, no one argues with the fact that the Obama deficit has ballooned to $3 trillion in two years. Earmarks, then, are hardly a gateway drug, a symptom of federal spending run amok or even an underlying cause of our fiscal problems.
Here at OTB, Dodd, James Joyner, and myself have all chimed in on the earmark debate over the past week, and while I do understand the argument for why the earmark debate is important, I think James hit the nail on the head when he said:
[U]nless eliminating earmarks coincides with a radical reconception of how our government operates, it may be a step in the wrong direction. The Feds spend billions on highways, airports, and other infrastructure projects. Without earmarks, we’d basically have Federal bureaucrats deciding how to spend that money. That may in fact be less wasteful and more efficient. But I don’t see how this doesn’t constitute a major redistribution of discretionary power away from Congress — who’s supposed to decide how Federal funds are allocated — to unelected people not mentioned in the Constitution.
Inhofe makes a similar point in his essay and his entreaties to the Tea Party are spot on. If you’re really concerned about cutting spending, reducing government waste, and bringing the National Debt under control, then the solution is to put pressure on your lawmakers to undertake real spending cuts, not to fall for their efforts to divert your attention by demonizing a process that isn’t nearly as evil as its critics make it out to be, and which has little overall impact on the size, scope, and power of government.
I hope that Inhofe’s message resonates.