Rhetorical Flim-Flam | Citizens Against Government Waste

Rhetorical Flim-Flam

The WasteWatcher

In the wake of the March 13 vote on a one-year moratorium on congressional earmarks, it is time for a post-mortem on who said what in the heat of the battle.  The amendment, offered by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) to the fiscal year 2009 budget resolution, failed by a vote of 29-71.  But the earmark fight is far from over; the comments made by the appropriations cardinals and various earmark apologists are fodder for future skirmishes. 

For example, a March 12 Roll Call article contained a cringe-inducing whopper by Senate Appropriations Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) who told the newspaper, “What happens if we don’t say how the money should be spent with some specificity?”  He added, “We’re just turning over billions of dollars to the administration to spend without any guidance from the people, and the people are supposed to govern America.  That’s what the Constitution says.  Those that want to turn over the spending to bureaucrats are standing the Constitution on its head.”    

In that same vein, Senate appropriator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) added, “The consensus is, it’s not a good idea.  I’m just not prepared, and I think a lot of my colleagues are not prepared, to acquiesce to the nameless, faceless bureaucrats … making all those decisions.”

The members’ comments are rhetorical red herrings that rest squarely upon the cynical notion that the taxpayers are too uninformed to understand how the system really works. 

Both senators know that the Constitution as set forth by the Founding Fathers was not intended to permit earmarking of projects that were not of national significance.  That is why projects are vetted by agencies (the “nameless, faceless bureaucrats”).  These individuals are simply working within the laws passed by Congress. 

But rather than allow that competitive grant process to work, appropriators have methodically and increasingly side-stepped it in order to be able to spend hundreds of billions of tax dollars with little or no accountability.  If members of Congress don’t trust “bureaucrats,” they should simply eliminate all federal agencies and earmark every dollar spent by the government. 

Appropriations Committee members work outisde of the normal system of spending money and arbitrarily pick winners and losers by earmarking funds for specific recipients.  Rank and file members, backed by an army of lobbyists, bypass authorizing committees and lobby appropriators directly for pet projects.  In fiscal year 1991, CAGW found 546 pork projects worth $3.1 billion and in fiscal year 2008 that number has exploded to 11,610 projects work $17.2 billion.      

Notorious porker Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) dismissed the earmark ban as “a fever that comes out of the presidential campaign,” and Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) agreed that it was mere “election-year politicking.”

While some of the support for an earmark moratorium is surely the result of election pressures, the issue goes well beyond this year and deserves serious consideration.  Public outrage over earmarking and pork-barrel projects has grown more deafening because taxpayers intuitively understand that it represents the tip of the iceberg of reckless congressional spending.  That is why they have pushed lawmakers to adopt reforms in the last few years.  Now, they are demanding a break in the feeding at the trough and additional reforms that will restrict, and eventually lead to the elimination of earmarks.

To paraphrase Network, the American people are sick of earmarks and they’re not going to take it anymore! 

Alexa Moutevelis