The Day The Earmarks Stood Still

A group of GOP senators has announced they will propose an earmark moratorium for the 112th Congress at next week’s Senate Republican Conference meeting.  Sponsors include Jim DeMint (R-SC), Tom Coburn (R-OK), John Ensign (R-NV), Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), and John Cornyn (R-TX).  They are joined by newly elected Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).

“Americans want Congress to shut down the earmark favor factory, and next week I believe House and Senate Republicans will unite to stop pork barrel spending,” said Senator DeMint. “Instead of spending time chasing money for pet projects, lawmakers will be able to focus on balancing the budget, reforming the tax code and repealing the costly health care takeover.”

Pork is not the only part of the congressional diet DeMint intends to beat like a San Francisco Happy Meal.  He’s also co-sponsored an amendment with Cornyn to support a Balanced Budget Amendment.  “Senator Cornyn’s amendment is critical to stopping the runaway spending that is mortgaging our children’s’ future,” DeMint explained. “Republicans should fully support a Balanced Budget Amendment that would require us to end the skyrocketing debt without raising taxes on American families.”

Republicans will have a fairly low bar to hurdle in finding places to cut spending, since Democrats felt the gigantic State contained exactly zero dollars of excess fat, and never tired of feeding it billion-dollar bon bons.  Rand Paul suggested a federal hiring freeze, plus a 10 percent reduction in the federal workforce, and a 10 percent cut in non-military government wages.  Over in the House, Representative Mike Pence of Indiana wants to return the federal budget to its pre-stimulus levels, reversing an 84 percent increase in domestic spending under President Obama.  The Senate earmark moratorium would echo a ban Republican House members voted to impose upon themselves in 2010. 

Earmarks are a particularly virulent strain of the spending virus.  Shannon Bream at Fox News points out that not a single spending bill made it through Congress this year, but there were three thousand earmarks in the House, worth about $3 billion.  The Senate doubles that amount with $6 billion in earmarks. 

Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, is not fully behind the Senate earmark moratorium.  He wants lawmakers to focus on “executive earmarks” originating from the White House.  The President’s trillion-dollar stimulus bill was basically a giant monster made of earmarks, which lumbered across the country and dissolved into a pool of foul-smelling slush funds.

The most vital task in restoring budget sanity is taking control of entitlement spending, especially Social Security and Medicare, towering masses of unfunded liability that dwarf the rest of the government’s expenditures.  Subtract entitlements and military funding from the budget, and you’re left with about 16 percent to cut… but the battle for fiscal restraint has to start somewhere.  Voters no longer want to play the old game of completely dismissing any suggestion that doesn’t instantly balance the budget.  They’re likely to see the elimination of earmarks for what it is: a good start.