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Friday, November 19, 2010

GOP Declares Earmark Moratorium: Stops Pet Projects!

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House Republicans Renew Voluntary Earmark Ban

Republicans in the House of Representatives on Thursday adopted a voluntary ban on pet projects known as earmarks when they take control of the chamber in January from President Barack Obama's Democrats.

The action came two days after Senate Republicans announced a voluntary ban, prompting Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid to say he would allow a vote on a binding moratorium.

Reid made the offer even though he and lawmakers in both parties have long favored earmarks to deliver a variety of projects to their home states.

Republicans have now forsworn earmarks as they eye large spending cuts in the coming year, when they will control the House and have more clout in the Democratic-led Senate after November's congressional elections.

"Earmarks have become a symbol of a Congress that has broken faith with the people," said House Republican Leader John Boehner, who is set to become the chamber's new speaker in January, replacing Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

Boehner, who has long opposed earmarks, said the House ban "shows the American people we are listening and we are dead serious about ending business as usual in Washington."

Although earmarks account for less than one half of a percent of the federal budget, they have become a symbol of wasteful spending for many grassroots "Tea Party" activists who helped Republicans win big in the November 2 elections.

Earmarks have accounted for roughly $16 billion of the $3.5 trillion federal budget in recent years. Reid and other backers say they are a way to ensure that Congress maintains some control over federal spending that otherwise would be managed by government agencies.

Democrats have sought to rein in earmarks in recent years after they factored in several corruption scandals, although they have not backed an outright ban.

An earmark ban could worsen congressional gridlock as they often serve as sweeteners to build support for the large spending bills that are needed to keep the government running, according to Thomas Stratmann, an economics professor at George Mason University.

Republicans reject such talk and have urged President Barack Obama, who favors curbing earmarks, to veto any bill that contains them.

Earmark Spending In 2011

There is a big showdown coming on Capitol Hill, not only on the Bush tax cuts, but the low hanging fruit we call earmarks; that spending members of Congress request for their pet projects often on behalf of campaign contributors.

Republicans, after an eight year addiction under President Bush, have agreed to a two year moratorium on earmarks in an effort to hold down spending.

Many Democrats say earmarks don't matter and have no intention of cutting the roughly 7,000 projects that litter the federal budget each year, projects incumbents often sell to voters as evidence of their ability to 'bring home the bacon'. They also say earmarks are merely symbolic, a convenient way for members to appear fiscally responsible while wasting money in other areas.

Here are five reasons they're wrong - earmarks do matter!

1. True, earmarks are only 1% of the federal budget, but look at it this way - that $16 billion dollars in earmarks equals the median federal income tax paid by 6.9 million Americans.

That's right, you'd have to fill the Rose Bowl in Pasadena 75 times with a capacity crowd just to pay for what Congress considers pocket change. That's the blood, sweat and taxes from almost seven million citizens to pay for programs that don't compete against other government priorities for your money.

2. Earmarks provide an unlevel political playing field.

"They protect members," says former CBO Director Douglas Holtz Eakin. "If you've got earmarks and you're safe back home, that's different than some other guy who takes a tough vote to cut some other spending. So it corrupts the budget process in a very fundamental way."

3. Earmarks encourage overspending.

"They're a gateway drug to a spending addiction. Once you have an earmark in a bill - you feel obligated to vote for it, no matter how bloated it becomes," says Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona.

4. A moratorium may actually restore voters' confidence in Congress.

"Ultimately, it's a matter of trust," says budget analyst Brian Riedle of the Heritage Foundation. "Taxpayers are offended when they find their tax dollars are going to tattoo removal shops and Grateful Dead archives. They aren't going to trust Congress to make decisions on Medicare, Social Security, and anti poverty programs, if they feel that's where the savings are going to go."

5. Corruption. Lawmakers funnel millions of your tax dollars to companies that shower incumbents with campaign donations. Congress of course denies there is any trade, or so called "pay to play", but watchdogs say the evidence is obvious: big donors often receive big earmarks.

"Earmarks are bought and sold by lobbyists," says Riedle. "You are not distributing government projects by merit, but the highest campaign contributor."

Bottom line, experts say if Congress can't cut the low hanging fruit, there is no way they'll agree on cutting marginal programs or the really controversial stuff like Social Security and Medicare. Look for a big fight over the 7,000 earmarks worth $9 billion contained in Fiscal Year 2011 spending bills between now and January 1st.

Sources: Fox News, MSNBC, Pajamas Media, WCNC, Yahoo News

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