Taxpayers Are Thankful That These Turkeys Won’t Return

David Williams

November 20, 2012

During this season of thanks, rather than focusing on what Washington has done this year to disappoint us, let’s look at one thing taxpayers can be thankful for: no earmark revival.

Last week the House GOP came damagingly close to resurrecting Congress’ pork-barrel spending ways.  The measure may have appeared innocuous enough, but Washington’s seasoned insiders knew to be on guard.  According to Transportation WeeklyRepresentative Don Young (R-AK) proposed “an amendment to bring back earmarks, if the earmarks go to local units of government.  The present earmark ban in GOP Conference rules reads as follows: ‘…no Member shall request a congressional earmark, limited tax benefit, or limited tariff benefit, as such terms have been described in the Rules of the House.’  The Young amendment would add the parenthetical ‘(except if the recipient of the earmark is a unit of local government)’ after the word ‘earmark,’ which would have the effect of bringing back most of the earmarks…”

Although Rep. Young had hoped the House Republican Conference would vote in favor of his amendment, thankfully for taxpayers everywhere his proposal did not garner enough support prompting Young to withdraw it.  Ironically, despite the fact Young sold his amendment as benefitting local governments, passage of his amendment would have ensured that not only local governments, but taxpayers too, would have been relegated to a worse place.  And that’s because we all would be left with a higher tax tab in order to pay for the increase of federally-funded projects at local levels across the country.

This measure does a great disservice to local governments because it incentivizes and encourages them to look to the federal government for money and funding for projects.  This approach is problematic because the states and localities become dependent on the federal government to get them out of any sort of financial predicament.  Just look at the way Obama’s 2009 stimulus gave states the opportunity to hold off on making hard fiscal decisions and implementing difficult spending cuts.  The federal government, through federal stimulus money and grants, practically rewarded states for their mishandling of budgets and encouraged them to kick the can down the road.  Additionally, as Taxpayers Protection Alliance has pointed out before, federal dollars haven no place in being used to support an endeavor that also does not have federal reach.

Putting this all aside, another truism about Washington is that old habits die hard.  Although taxpayers should be thankful that earmarks will at least not be revived by the House GOP, we can’t expect that the situation will remain in our favor forever.  For example, as Transportation Weekly noted, “Presumed chairman-to-be Representative Bill Shuster (R-PA), coming out of the GOP meeting, said the alternative to earmarks – letting the administration distribute the money – is far worse.  ‘Constitutionally, we are the ones that tax and spend money,’ he told reporters. ‘We’ve given it to the executive branch, and I don’t care if it’s a Republican president or a Democratic president, they don’t have all the answers. And also, we’re duly elected by our folks to vote on tax laws and all the other laws we vote on, so we ought to have some sort of authority to do that.’” Mr. Shuster is correct with part of this statement.  The U.S. Constitution awards the House of Representatives with the power of the purse, which is why, among other things, all spending bills must originate in the House.  While on the other hand – unlike what he suggests in this statement – precisely because the House possesses the power of the purse means that the body he is a part of can act and is given the responsibility to monitor and inhibit the way and the amount of money the executive branch has to spend. Sure, we can all agree it’s a problem that the executive branch has heaps of money to distribute at its convenience.  However, Rep. Shuster and his colleagues should be careful about pointing the finger of blame on the executive branch and must remember that it’s the legislative branch that offers the money to the executive.  Translation: Representatives have the authority to give the executive very limited parameters, which could act to explicitly define the way money is used.  This means if members of Congress are unhappy with the way executive branch is spending taxpayer money then they only have themselves to blame.

Perhaps members of Congress should also take time this Thanksgiving to recognize how thankful they should be for their jobs and recognize the important role of being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.