Americans aren’t happy with Washington. Whether it was writing bills behind closed doors, passing bills without reading them, or spending money that the country didn’t have, Congress rightfully earned the public’s scorn, and the American people spoke loud and clear on Election Day.
One message Americans sent was that they want Congress to cut spending. One of the ways Congress can do that is ending the practice of earmarking. More than 9,000 earmarks scattered throughout last year’s spending bills consumed $16.5 billion of taxpayer funds, according to the nonpartisan group Citizens Against Government Waste.
Taxpayers expect their money to be used to support important activities of the government, not a pet project of a lawmaker. Do taxpayers send the Treasury a check in April so that the federal government can spend, for example, $1 million on a Woodstock museum in upstate New York?
Fortunately, the Senate was able to eliminate the funding for the museum in 2007. But, with thousands of projects hidden into lengthy spending bills, the Senate can’t vote to eliminate them all. Some wasteful projects will undoubtedly slip through the cracks. That’s why it’s important to stop the practice altogether.
Earlier this year, the Senate considered a measure that would have put a moratorium on earmarks for 2010 and 2011. I voted for the moratorium, but 68 senators opposed it.
The Senate will likely have another chance to vote on it. Senator McCain has joined Senator Coburn and two Democrats, Senators McCaskill and Mark Udall, who are pushing for a vote on a Senate-wide moratorium.
Republicans have already spoken. On Nov. 16, the Senate Republican Conference approved a two-year moratorium on earmarks. Republicans in the House have also adopted a similar ban on earmarks.
Of course, an earmark ban is not a single solution to our country’s fiscal problems, and not all earmarks are wasteful. But, if legislators can’t muster the will to eliminate a small portion of spending, how will they be able to make the bigger, more difficult decisions?
And the decisions will only get harder. In 2011, the federal government is expected to spend $3.8 trillion dollars, double the amount of federal spending a decade ago. The future outlook is one of debt and deficits. The government already asks a lot of taxpayers, who send more than $2 trillion to the Treasury annually. At some point — and that time is fast approaching — Congress is going to have to take significant steps to cut spending.
When Americans cast their votes, they are electing someone they expect to exercise good judgment and act in their best interests. This past November, the message was that voters want Congress to control spending and support jobs through economic growth. Those are the only ways we can ever expect to dig out of debt.