I made the following statement today regarding the Senate Republican Conference voluntary moratorium banning earmarks.
I oppose the Senate Republican Conference voluntary moratorium on so-called "earmarks." At a moment in which over-spending by the Federal government perpetuates annual deficits of over $1 trillion a year, the Congress is being asked to debate a Congressional earmark spending resolution which will save no money even while giving the impression that the Congress is attempting to meet the public demand to reduce spending.
Instead of surrendering Constitutional authority to Washington bureaucrats and the Obama Administration, Congress should focus on reducing spending on both entitlement and discretionary spending programs. Providing the Obama Administration with greater authority to direct spending does not accomplish this goal, and eliminating earmarks does not reduce spending.
The Constitution explicitly states that it is the responsibility of Congress to make decisions on the appropriation of federal taxpayer funds. Earmarks should be considered and treated like amendments to any underlying spending bill. Members should have the opportunity to offer earmarks, review them, and offer motions to strike or modify them. And each of these steps -- from the committee process, to the floor, to the conference committee -- should take place in an absolute transparent and deliberate manner and be publicly disclosed at each step along the way with a final public up or down vote.
In 2008, I was asked by Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to serve as a chairman of a fiscal reform working group to find consensus on the issue of earmarks within the Republican Conference. Our working group unanimously supported efforts to reduce spending, but held strong and diverse views on the subject of earmarks. However, we were able to come to an agreement and issued a report (PDF).
While this report was never enacted into law, the Senate Appropriations Committee has adopted many of the transparency suggestions. Since that time, I have abided by the framework of the report and have disclosed projects that I have requested on behalf of Indiana communities on my website.
Our working group advocated that, "an open and accountable amendment process and absolute transparency on every Member request successfully inserted into legislation is essential to the integrity of federal spending. In addition, Members should also have assurance that when they vote for a specific bill or conference report that all earmarks are written in a clear and transparent manner."
Further, our working group noted that, "the practice of earmarking is not limited to Members of Congress but is also apparent in the President's budget proposal. Likewise, these requests should be clear, transparent, and subject to amendment or deletion."
Congress should exercise, rather than abdicate, its Constitutional authority to cut spending and reduce the deficit.