What I warned America in late 2010 is proving true today: Eliminating earmarks has not saved taxpayers one dime. Instead our debt has increased by $4 trillion, and Congress is giving specified amounts of taxpayer dollars to the president so that he can spend it as he and his unelected bureaucrats so please.
Republicans’ decision to cede power to the president through the earmark moratorium has made Congress less accountable, less transparent, and less responsible to its constituents.
Shortly before the ban, Republicans put forward smart reforms to address the abuses that had been taking place around earmarks. Members were banned from seeking earmarks that would result in a direct benefit to them or their families. Members were also required to sign their names next to any earmark that brought money back to his or her state.
These were all changes that I strongly supported and should be part of a decision today on restoring the earmark process. Congress must also give a definitive definition for “earmark” to prevent its further misuse. It is Congress’ purview to prioritize projects of national interests within spending measures that have first been scrutinized and authorized by the appropriate committees. This is the proper role of earmarks.
Prior to the ban, I was proud to put my name next to two earmark measures that brought Oklahomans’ taxpayer dollars back to the state in order to improve our highways and give more opportunity for our roads and bridges to remain major players in our nation’s commerce.
Prior to 2005, Interstate 40 Crosstown was being routed through Oklahoma City via a functionally obsolete bridge that was fracture-critical, meaning it was at critical risk of collapsing. There were several places that I could physically see through cracks in the asphalt to the ground below.
Through the earmark process, Congress authorized nearly half of the money needed to get the reconstruction projects started. During the same year, Congress also authorized half of the needed funding to support modernizations to Interstate 44, which crossed Tulsa with a highway design that pre-dated the interstate system.
As Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley has said, both interstates were massively deficient from a capacity, safety, and conditional perspective. The state had the ability to meet roughly half of the funding needs, but federal earmarks allowed these critical projects to begin decades earlier and be completed more quickly than would have been possible through local government effort alone.
According to Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, one of Congress’ main responsibilities is to tend to the nation’s commerce between the states. Oklahoma serves as the crossroads to many of our nation’s goods, to include grains, gravel, livestock, and oil and gas equipment. More than 101 million tons of goods flow into and out of Oklahoma on the I-40 Crosstown project each year, while 85 million tons of goods travel across I-44 annually.
I was sent to the U.S. Senate by Oklahomans to ensure these opportunities remain available, as well as abundant, as I work within the confines of my Constitutional duty.
This year, Congress will be confronted with the need to reauthorize a transportation bill, but Congress risks surrendering the project prioritization decisions to President Obama or failing to pass meaningful legislation altogether. If the 2009 stimulus — in which earmarks were also banned — taught Americans anything, it is that the president uses taxpayer money to take care of his pet projects and political donors.
Our Founding Fathers foresaw taxpayer dollars being used to build a strong national security and support the nation’s commerce. They also believed these spending measures were to be prioritized by Congress, which is why James Madison outlined in the Federalist Papers that Congress was to hold the power of the purse in order to keep the power closer to the people.
As one of the most conservative members of Congress, I can honestly say that no taxpayer dollars have been saved as a result of the earmark moratorium. Instead it has given more power to President Obama and less voice to the people.