Perhaps the most misunderstood topic when it comes to politics is the role of the earmark. There is no shortage of outrage from your standard conservative and mainstream Republican about pork barrel-this and pork barrel-that. Somehow, it ends up being used as a weapon against Congressman Ron Paul, who ran for President on the Restore America Plan that slashed five federal departments and a trillion dollars in spending. Pause for a moment and reflect on the logic.
An important note to keep in mind going forward, is that in 2010, earmarks consisted of less than 1% of the federal budget, down from 1.1% in 2006. In 2010, that’s $15.9 billion in federal spending that Congress was able to have input on, whereas in 2006 the figure was $29 billion. This is hardly anything significant in comparison to government’s bigger adventures like TARP, which was $700 billion.
An earmark is often described as congressional spending directed to pet projects back home. This definition is not necessarily wrong, but it is dishonest to suggest that it is the whole truth. While it is congressional spending, it is spending that is using already approved funds. When a member of Congress wishes to use funds, it must state the purpose for the requested money and amount. There is a term for this, which is “transparency.”
Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution states “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.”
To clarify the clause, Congress is authorized under the Constitution to use the earmark to direct all appropriations of money drawn from the U.S. Treasury. The money, if not earmarked by Congress, will then be left to the executive branch to use.
Congressman Ron Paul is often criticized for earmarking a number of projects and then voting against the appropriations bill. This is labeled is hypocritical by opponents, who ridicule the Texas Congressman for supposedly appeasing his constituents by giving the appearance of trying, and then winning over the hearts of fiscal conservatives in his vote. There is dishonesty here, absolutely. But the lack of truth lies in the critics, not the Congressman.
As former Republican U.S. Senator Phil Gramm, also from Texas, once said “If we should vote next week on whether to begin producing cheese in a factory on the moon, I almost certainly would oppose it…On the other hand, if the government decided to institute the policy, it would be my objective to see that a Texas contractor builds this celestial cheese plant, that the milk comes from Texas cows, and that the Earth distribution center is located in Texas.”
The quote from Senator Gramm illustrates the point that Congressman Paul is not a hypocrite. Congressman Paul correctly opposes the spending and votes against the appropriations legislation. But as a Congressman should, he earmarks the proposed spending back to his district, instead of leaving it to the executive branch to waste on bad projects. After all, should the members of Congress be giving back to the people or leaving the money to the President to spend?