Today, America owes over $10 trillion in debt, mostly to foreign countries. Experts also predict this year will be the largest federal budget deficit in our nation’s history.
The interest on the national debt stands at $237 billion. We have to send $61 million a day to China just to service the debt we owe them. It’s like paying the minimum payment on your credit card; it doesn’t matter how long you live, you’ll never be debt-free. Clearly, our federal spending programs and tax policies need to be thoroughly examined in order to keep our nation solvent and economy from being crippled.
Instead of having that debate, the discussion has been dominated in recent years by critics of congressional earmarks, turning congressionally-directed spending requests into a political piñata. Despite what these politicians may say, congressional earmarks are neither the source of the problem nor, because they comprise less than one-half of one percent of the budget, do they offer any significant contribution to the solution. Instead, they have become a straw man used to mislead the public, avoiding a more honest and thorough debate on the federal budget.
Eliminating congressional earmarks doesn’t even mean there would be no more earmarks. Whether Congress directs spending or the White House, at some point all discretionary federal funds are directed towards a particular entity, whether it be a local government or non-profit. If it is not done by Members of Congress, it will be done by Presidents and their political appointees. At least with congressional earmarks, the process today is transparent. Under new rules put in place by this Congress, Members must affirm that they have no financial interest in the earmark and their names are listed in the bill beside the project so there is no doubt who requested the funding.
Locally, without the congressional earmark process, some important regional projects such as the replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, initial funding for the Dulles Rail project and Metro’s new capital improvement program would not exist. As a Member of the House Appropriations Committee, I’ve made no secret of my support for these and other projects for Northern Virginia funded by earmarks.
The congressional earmark process is imperfect but, like democracy, it’s the worst system except for all the others. We can continue talking about earmarks, though it is disingenuous to claim eliminating them will offer any substantive contribution toward lowering federal spending or reducing the size of the federal budget deficit. If that is truly our goal, and it should be, we need to focus on trimming big ticket discretionary and nondiscretionary spending items like defense and our entitlement programs, or raising revenues, or both, rather than politically posturing over earmarks, which makes up less than one-half of one percent of the federal budget.