Tuesday’s Senate vote on an earmark ban was an instructive exercise for those who feel it’s vital to change the way Washington does business.
Lest there was any doubt, the tally revealed that Democrats stand firmly behind the big spending status quo and against reform. While seven Democrats favored the ban, their ranks paled when compared to the 46 Democrats who voted to continue doling out the pork to the folks back home.
Meanwhile, 32 of the 40 Senate Republicans favored the path of fiscal responsibility.
Earmarks are specially targeted spending endeavors usually tucked into a larger appropriations bill and passed with little scrutiny. Congressional defenders say they have a right and duty to direct federal spending to their home states or districts. Detractors say such spending should be able to survive a stand-alone, up-or-down vote and is symptomatic of an appropriations process that knows no bounds.
The detractors have it right.
While ending earmarks might barely make a dent in a trillion-dollar deficit — Citizens Against Government Waste estimates such special-interest legislation cost $27 billion in 2005 — their presence symbolizes a beltway mind-set that encourages profligacy and even corruption. “All we have to do is look at campaign contributions and earmarks, and there is a stinky little secret associated with that,” noted Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
Despite the setback on Tuesday, President Obama has hinted he may start vetoing larded-up spending bills. In addition, proponents of reform may attempt to block legislation containing earmarks. Either course of action would be both appropriate and welcome.