Self-imposed Republican moratorium leads to drop in 2011 earmark spending

Earmarks are way down in the 2011 spending bills being
drafted in the House, thanks to new restrictions that lawmakers imposed on

The amount of earmarked money is down by roughly 40 percent
in three 2011 appropriations bills in the House compared to last year’s bills, according to an
analysis by the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense.

{mosads}Three of the bills drafted by the committee so far this year
included $740 million in earmarks, the provisions lawmakers insert in spending
bills to steer money to specific projects.

The 2010 versions of the bills funding military construction
and the departments of Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Housing and Urban
Development and Homeland Security included $1.27 billion in earmarks. A total of $10
billion in disclosd earmarks were included in all spending bills for 2010.

Both parties enacted policies to reduce earmarks, but
Taxpayers for Common Sense say much of the decline is due to the House
Republicans’ one-year moratorium on earmarks. All but three of the 178 House
GOP members have agreed to refrain from earmarking this year.

Republicans, including members of the Appropriations
Committee who have earmarked in the past, said limiting earmarks bolsters
their argument that spending should be cut to reduce the federal deficit, which
is expected to reach $1.5 trillion this year.

Because they have agreed to the moratorium, the GOP can “answer
the question in 10 seconds” and move on to talk about the big-picture problem
of the deficit, said Rep. Jack Kingston (Ga.), a senior GOP appropriator. “It
gives us a lot more credibility on fiscal restraint,” he said.

House Democrats have also reduced their earmarking — by about
4 percent — in the three bills that Taxpayers for Common Sense analyzed. 

Democrats this year instituted a permanent ban on all
earmarks that go to for-profit companies in order to limit the abuse of taxpayer

The effect of that ban is expected to be seen largely in the
Defense spending bill, which has traditionally had the bulk of for-profit
earmarks. The 2010 appropriations bills had about $1.7 billion in for-profit
earmarks, according to the House Appropriations Committee.

Lawmakers have sought to crack down on earmarking as worries
have grown over the $13 trillion debt. Earmark critics such as Rep. Jeff Flake
(R-Ariz.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) warn
that the practice is wasteful at best and corrupt at worst. Nearly nine in 10
people who have tried the nonpartisan Center for Responsible Federal Budget’s
online budget-balancing simulator said earmarks should be eliminated.  

Earmarks, however, make up only a tiny portion of the
federal budget. GOP and Democratic appropriators note that earmarks make
up less than 1 percent of federal discretionary spending, which is nearly $1.4
trillion this year.

“[Reducing earmarks] doesn’t save a whole lot of money, but
I guess it satisfied the public thirst to beat up on the Congress,” said Rep.
Jim Moran (Va.), a senior Democratic appropriator.

Appropriators, who tend to be the biggest earmarkers, have
defended Congress’ privilege to send money to certain projects, such as new
schools, water treatment systems and weapons systems. Those lawmakers argue
that they know their constituents’ needs better than the executive branch,
which has the vast control over taxpayer funds.

It’s unclear whether the House’s earmark reductions will
stick. The Senate hasn’t committed to the House’s new restrictions, and the
House GOP moratorium expires after this year. 

Republican appropriators have said they would like to have future
earmark reforms yet still have the ability to win money for their districts in
the future.

“I think right now we’re okay [with an earmark moratorium],”
Kingston said. “In the long-term we would like to have earmark reform to the
degree that it’s transparent, justified and has scrutiny, but the Congress
would still have the prerogative of spending money.”

Tags Claire McCaskill Jeff Flake Jim Moran John McCain

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