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To Earmark, or Not to Earmark

March 12, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

(Updated below)

Tomorrow, every senator will go down or record for or against Jim DeMint’s (pictured) amendment to ban all earmarks from the fiscal year 2009 budget.

The vote will take place during what is known as a “vote-a-rama,” a day-long series of votes on budget amendments, with no debate and a pervasive 60-vote hurdle for passage. The vote on the earmark moratorium is going to be close — if you feel strongly in either way on this amendment, calling your senators could make the difference.

The Club For Growth, who strongly supports the earmark moratorium amendment, has posted a running tally of where senators stand on it. They’ve received some form of indication from about one-third of the Senate. Of that list, ten said they were still undecided. Sixty four have not said one way or the other — consider them persuadable.

Earmarks are pieces of the budget that have been requested by a specific legislator for a specific purpose, usually a politically-popular project in their district. As the number of earmarks exploded in the last several years, they have become
a symbol of government waste and corruption. This graph from the Congressional Research Service shows how earmarking increased dramatically between ’94 and 2005, with a dramatic turning point sometime around 2001. When Democrats took control of Congress last year, they were able to rein in earmarking somewhat. According to Congresspedia, “the 2007 spending bills contained about 25 percent fewer earmarks than the 2006 appropriations.”

For a good argument in favor of the earmark moratorium, see this press release from Jim DeMint. On the other hand, this article from the Politico contains several persuasive arguments against the moratorium from a bipartisan group of senators.


The Senate was able to outmaneuvere DeMint and avoid a vote on this amendment. SENATUS has the details:

>Senate Democrats were able to sustain a point of order, which was backed up by the Senate Parliamentarian, which stated that this earmark amendment was not “germane” under budget rules. A motion to waive this germane requirement was soundly defeated by a vote of 29 (Y) to 71 (N). Had that vote been allowed to pass, a new precedent would have been set which led the majority of Senators to oppose it. The point of order against the amendment meant that it had to be withdrawn.

Also of note on the earmark front, OMB Watch has just released a background brief (pdf) on earmarks and the federal earmarking process. If the debate surrounding this amendment has you confused, the OMB Watch brief is a great place to go for some solid answers. For example, did you know that they do not involve new federal spending and are “budget-neutral”?

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  • Anonymous 03/12/2008 2:25pm

    Earmarks should be watched for foreign policy spending. The Intelligence Committee funding and planning of the Afghanistan war, for example, went to ‘friends’ who work for NGOs. The Administration’s FY09 International Affairs Budget request is 40 billion. Where will Congress spend this? Will it go to friends who run NGOs through USAID in countries like Afghanistan? Will it go to friends who run agencies?

    It is about the same as the Air force tankers. The Iraq war is gradually winding down and the Afghnistan war is heating up. The resources used in Afghanistan were these foreign budget spending through USAID to NGOs after special forces paid out to locals. The ngos did the same. There is nothing to show for this except an insurgency and constant blame by the receivers of the USAID that the problem is now Pakistan and Pashtu speakers. This was the original assertion by the receivers of the aid and, now, it seems to be the problem. The insurgency is a request for more funding, but we’re back to where we started with a bad model blaming the Pashtu speakers because that Russian model was used by the receivers of the aid for the justifiaction of the aid and payments to locals. The Russian model may not be the model to follow because it is a failure when it comes to spending USAID money. This is the origianl error in funding friends through USAID. It is a failed model.

    The US Global Leadership Campaign has members who are paid by US government agencies to lobby for those agencies. Earmarks should be watched here.

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