Washington (CNSNews.com) – In keeping with his theme of improving the country’s fiscal footing and increasing transparency in government, President Barack Obama took a popular political stance in Tuesday’s State of the Union address by vowing to veto any earmarks.
“And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this -- if a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it. I will veto it,” Obama said.
Most lawmakers seemed to approve, even though earmarks alone have little impact on the entire federal budget.
According to the president’s own Office of Management and Budget, eliminating all earmarks in fiscal year 2010 would have reduced federal spending by just 0.4 percent of the budget, or less than half of 1 percent. That amounts to about $14 billion out of a $3.46 trillion budget with a $1.3 trillion deficit.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said ending earmarks would have no effect on reducing the deficit, and only serve to take power away from elected members of Congress and put more in the hands of federal bureaucrats.
“It’s a token gesture. It wouldn’t reduce spending at all since earmarks usually mean there is a program that instead of letting the bureaucrats spend all the money, Congress makes some of the decisions,” Sherman told CNSNews.com.“The problem is chiefly the press,” Sherman continued. “When bureaucrats make a decision – they usually decide how 95-98 percent of the program’s money will be spent – the press doesn’t spend any attention whether a bureaucrat is building a bridge to nowhere. If a politician earmarks money for that project, that is huge, continuing national news. The fact is that some of the earmarks Congress has approved in the past were not optimal. But, when you compare that to some of the mistakes bureaucrats make, the mistakes are rather small.”
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) acknowledged that earmarks make little difference in the big picture.
“Earmarks have become a political issue. Many members have used it in their campaign. The general public thinks it’s bad,” Waters told CNSNews.com. “So to talk about getting rid of it gets you political points. You’re right, it does not represent a large share of the budget, just as the federal employee cuts do not represent a big share of the federal budget. There are people beginning to talk about cuts and wanting the public to believe they are working toward reducing the deficit.”
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said eliminating earmarks is largely a matter of restoring trust in government.
“It’s very important that the American people have confidence in their government. Right now, one of the reasons people are cynical is because of earmarks,” Grassley told CNSNews.com. “They see members of Congress taking care of their district and not the national interest. Even if it saves a spit in the ocean compared to what the problem is, we’re going to deal with the problem too.”
Grassley said the earmark ban is “very, very necessary,” and he said he applauds the president for vowing to veto them.
“I want you to know, within two weeks of the November elections, both the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans agreed not to have any earmarks,” Grassley said. “From talking to enough Democrats, I believe large share of Democrats will not have earmarks. Elections have consequences. One of those consequences, we ran on a platform of not having earmarks. We shouldn’t have earmarks. We won’t have earmarks. Whatever it saves, it’s going to save.”
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) agreed: “The American people believe earmarks equate to corruption, that earmarks are sold as favors, and I think we need to put a moratorium on earmarks and look for a way to do the people’s business in a more transparent way so that they know exactly what’s happening here, where their tax dollars are going,” Thune told CNSNews.com. “Unfortunately that doesn’t happen often enough today.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said the president’s promise to veto earmarks is symbolic, but good.
“If he were serious about the deficit, we’d get a balanced budget amendment, and link that to raising the debt ceiling,” Paul said. “That’s what I’ve been calling for about a month now, is that we should link the vote on the debt ceiling to a balanced budget amendment. The only way I can conceive of voting to raise the debt ceiling is if we tie it to real budget reform.”