Investor's Business Daily: Earmark Ban Hasn't Fixed Washington's Debt Crisis

By:  Sen. Jim Inhofe

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In March 2010, Congress banned the practice of earmarks. Since then, the national debt under President Obama has increased by $4 trillion dollars. Clearly the earmark ban has not been a fruitful solution to fix our debt crisis.

Instead, Congress has ceded spending power to the president and given away its constitutional duty to responsibly prioritize the nation's fiscal needs.

As one of the most conservative members in Congress, I agree that Washington must stop wasting taxpayer dollars. But our spending addiction isn't limited to the House and Senate.

In Sean Hannity's list of 102 wasteful taxpayer projects, each one was an earmark made by the White House — such as the $3.4 million sent to Florida to build an "Eco-Passage" to allow turtles to cross under the roadway.

Let us not forget the $325,000 to study the mating decisions of female cactus bugs.

The president has also spent more than $120 billion dollars on his climate change agenda without any congressional authorization or appropriation.

The reason the president could and continues to squander taxpayer money without any oversight is because of his moratorium on congressional earmarks in the 2009 stimulus and then Republicans following suit with a ban on congressional earmarks since 2010.

As a result, Congress now simply authorizes sums of taxpayer dollars and hands it over to the president and federal bureaucrats to use as they please.

This is not accountability; this is not transparency, and most importantly this is not bringing about an end to wasteful spending.

We have failed the American people by saying that an earmark moratorium brings about these much-needed, fundamental principles to government.

Instead of eliminating congressional oversight, Congress should enact changes to increase its oversight of this administration and requiring regular order.

We must start by giving a definitive definition to the term "earmark." Currently, the earmark ban defines it as authorizations and appropriations — which is what Congress is supposed to be doing under Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution.

"Earmark" has taken on a multitude of meanings over the years, but it is the purview of Congress to prioritize projects of national interests within spending measures that have first been scrutinized and then authorized by the appropriate committees.

We should also ban members from seeking earmarks that would result in a direct benefit to them or their families. We should require a member to sign his or her names next to any earmark that brings money back to his or her state.

These were once Republican ideas put into practice shortly before the ban, but current misperceptions have made many of my colleagues timid to champion again such vital transparency reforms.

When I select a project that brings Oklahomans' dollars back to the state with funding that has been authorized, my name goes on it for the rest of its life. Constituents will ensure elections ride on these projects' failures or successes.

Today nameless, faceless bureaucrats behind the president control how taxpayer money is spent, and no one is able to be held accountable for whether that project is waste or not.

It cannot be said enough: Congress' role is to be the voice of the people. We give voice to our constituents' needs in accordance with Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which gives light to how our Founding Fathers' foresaw taxpayer dollars benefiting the good of the nation, from national security to commerce and transportation. It's time we be that voice again.

Inhofe, a Republican, is Oklahoma's senior senator.