Earmarks Increase as Government Gets Bigger

Appropriators and other opponents of a one-year earmark moratorium ratcheted up their defense of pork-barrel spending today, signaling that many in Congress were not ready to take a timeout from the corrupting practice of earmarking.

With most of the attacks directed at Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), sponsor of the one-year freeze, earmark opponents began to push back against the myths spread by appropriators and their lobbyist friends. The attacks, in news articles and on a prominent conservative listserv, accuse DeMint of trying to hurt local communities, diminish Congress’ power and provide political cover or Clinton and Obama.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As taxpayer watchdogs have noted for years, earmarks serve as the gateway drug to wasteful government spending, which the chart above illustrates. While not every single earmark fits into the same category as the Bridge to Nowhere or the Teapot Museum, there is no other way to reform the process of earmarking without taking a timeout.

A congressional staffer responded to the attacks:

If this moratorium provides ‘cover to free spending politicians’ why is it that the biggest pork barrel spenders in Congress right now are fighting tooth and nail to defeat this? … [E]armark addicts in the Senate are doing everything within their power to stop the moratorium. They know that if we stop earmarks for a whole year, and the sky does not fall, their argument will be diminished and more importantly, their power to secure their next election with your taxpayer dollars will be diminished.

We are at a monumental moment right now in the Senate. For the first time ever, the political winds are at the backs of the reformers. The fact that Obama and Clinton have signed on to this is not an indication that they think they can spend more money. It is a sign that this issue has finally arrived and they cannot look the American people in the face and explain why they are in favor of a process that has produced so much corruption and waste.

The vote on DeMint’s amendment is expected to take place tomorrow when Reid holds a so-called “vote-o-rama” on the Democrats’ budget. DeMint will likely need 60 votes to secure passage of the amendment.

Leaders of both parties, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.), are viewed as the biggest hurdles to DeMint’s amendment, which is cosponsored by 14 senators, including John McCain (R-Ariz.), the Republican nominee for president. Despite the backing of both Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.), many Democrats also appear unwilling to take even a one-year break from earmarks.

UPDATE — 1:23 p.m.: Here’s video of DeMint on the Senate floor today talking about the moratorium.