First thought: In mid-November 2010, Senate Republicans voted via a non-binding resolution for a moratorium on earmarks. The House passed the same resolution. End-November 2010 the ban failed in the Senate. Nevertheless, the New York Times seems to think a “moratorium” on legislative earmarks is a reality. How quaint. Please note the process of authorizing and appropriating spending toward the bottom of this article.
Members of Congress may no longer be able to direct federal money to projects back home because of a moratorium on legislative earmarks, but that has not stopped them from trying.
…lawmakers appear to have found a backdoor method: special funds in spending and authorization bills that allow them to direct money to projects in their states.
“We thought we’d gotten rid of earmarks,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group in Washington that is part of the coalition. “But it looks like Congress has just moved on to other methods that are less transparent than the old way, like creating these slush funds.”
Here’s one example:
The latest example, the groups say, is the recently passed budget for the Army Corps of Engineers. Budget documents show that Congress included 26 different funds — totaling $507 million — for the corps to spend on various construction, maintenance and other projects that were not included in President Obama’s budget or the final spending bill.
The funds were financed by reducing money for projects included in the president’s budget request and adding $375 million to the corps budget, documents show.
So, at the least, the “earmarks” were paid for. Something got cut to add funding for something not in Obama’s budget. The devious maneuver – the workaround – was not directing funds to a specific project, such as a Senator getting funds for a bridge to nowhere. If that were the example here, the Corps would put the bridge on a list, then submit the list to Congress, and the supposition is, Congress will approve the list, and the Senator wanting the bridge, takes home the bacon without his/her name being attached.
The Watchdog groups say the $506MILLION added to the budget has pretty much been paired-up with “earmarks” from the previous session – now failed due to the “moratorium.” There is more than one way to skin a cat.
The NYT notes that the big spending Congress actually added more to the Corps budget than did Obama, but failed to emphasize that Congress cut Obama spending to get the Corps funds.
There are other examples of bypassing the “moratorium.” Read them here.
When the earmark battle was going on in the halls of Congress, my Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) explained that earmarks are the necessary way to get taxpayer monies back home to benefit the state. Said to be only 1% of the budget, if I understood Inhofe correctly, first there comes a pile of money to be spent. If that pile is not spent, it goes into Obama’s slush fund and is doled out to unelected bureaucrats, for the most part. It does not go back to the Treasury for something like paying off debt.
If you are familiar with Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn’s Congressional Waste Book, you know most lawmakers are unworthy of trusting with our money.
Therein lies the root of the problem, but…there is a mechanism to quash irresponsible fund marking. Congress sets spending ceilings. The members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee designates the annual funding for things like national defense, education, homeland security, etc. That’s the “appropriations” responsibility of lawmakers. Then there is the “authorization”
…authorization bills establish, continue, or modify agencies or programs.
…appropriations measures subsequently provide funding for the agencies and programs authorized. Source: The Congressional Appropriations Process 2011.
Interesting, in the 2007 Congressional Appropriations Process, the text was slightly different:
First, authorization bills establish, continue, or modify agencies or
Second, appropriations measures may [not subsequently] provide spending for the agencies and programs previously authorized.
[emphasis and text in brackets mine]
Note the word “may” above. In 2007, the option to NOT appropriate funding was a possibility. The word “may” was removed from the text after 2008. Perhaps today, everything authorized gets appropriated, regardless of the good sense of doing so? If so, there is no oversight, no checks and balances.
If the spending is not authorized, in theory, the spending cannot be appropriated (approved, consented to, ratified, tapped, utilized, endorsed, etc). If the spending is not authorized, it shouldn’t come before the Appropriations Committee.
According to a conversation I heard with Inhofe, the proper authorization-appropriation procedure is seldom followed. I believe the intimation was that the money might get authorized, but sometimes skips the important formality of being appropriated.
How can that happen in the Congress of the United States? Why are there not many, many Inhofe’s standing at microphones all across the country, at every townhall meeting, in newsletters, on their websites?
To digress: While we grind over earmarks (and I’m not saying we should not) our Military has been told they will not receive combat pay for any month in which they have not been fired upon – a war zone. Compare that to Coburn’s list of Waste, which includes insidious funds doled out by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) which sent Pakistan $90MILLION to spur on their mango industry, and another $23MILLION to tackle Pakistan’s daily power outages. The same agency funded 50th anniversary parties in Afghanistan, Bosnie/Herzegovina, East Africa, El Salvador, Kosovo, Philippines and South Africa. The State Department gave $350,000 for an art exhibit in Venice, Italy – as though they don’t have enough incredible “art” to exploit. We are an international “partner” for “international forests.” We fund “entrepreneurship training” in Barbados. We spent $611,000 to fund a survey of “well-being in 120 countries,” and we spent $425,642 to tell India how to improve their local governments. Every penny spent outside of the U.S. Almost makes me want to vote for Ron Paul.
How much power is there behind a congressional moratorium that is rejected by the body of the House or the body of the Senate? And was the $509MILLION both authorized and appropriated? These are questions for Senator Inhofe, and I’ll do my best to get the answer from him or his office and pass them on.