I was on MSNBC last week trying to make this point, but I don’t think I made it as well as Ron Paul does — it’s easy to pick out salacious-sounding "earmarks" and harumph around in the press like you’re the pig that just found a giant truffle, but it really just obscures a much larger problem:
Republican representative from Texas; candidate for president in 2008
To fight earmarks is to fight for an even more powerful executive branch. It is popular these days to condemn earmarks in the name of fiscal conservatism. The truth is that they account for less than 2 percent of the spending bill just passed. And even if all earmarks were removed from the budget overall, no money would be saved. That money would instead go to the executive branch to spend as it sees fit. Congress has the power of the purse. It is the constitutional responsibility of members to earmark, or designate, where funds should go, rather than to simply deliver a lump sum to the president.
Earmarks actually provide a level of transparency and accountability to federal spending. Consider the $350 billion that was recently given to the Treasury Department for the Troubled Assets Relief Program. The Treasury has not been forthcoming about where much of that ended up. If every bit of it had been earmarked, at least we would know something about how it was spent.
Instead of fighting earmarks, we should empower Congress to audit the Federal Reserve, which creates and spends trillions of dollars without any real transparency or accountability.
There are a lot points of agreement between liberals and conservatives who want to pull the fulcrum of power closer to the grassroots and away from entrenched DC self-interest of the establishment. I was on Break the Matrix the other night talking with Rick Williams about how Accountability Now is looking to recruit Ron Paul Republicans to run primary challenges against corporatist Republicans, and you can hear it here.
While there are certainly going to be points of contention between libertarian Republicans and progressive Democrats, there are also areas of strong agreement — especially right now. As Rick says, the talking points of FDL’s No More Dough Til We Know Where It Goes campaign could have come off their own website. I always feel like I’m in an honest discussion with them that is symptomatic of a healthy democratic process. We’re talking about sincere disagreements on a mutually agreed upon playing field, with the shared goal of wanting to create a system that better serves the public interest.
I contrast that with the completely dishonest conversation we’re dragged into on a daily basis with people like Ellen Tauscher. She comes in and tries to kill cramdown on behalf of bank lobbyists, says she’s never talked to one even though she’s got one working out of her office, tries to pretend she’s acting out of concern for the little people, backs down when people call up her office in pure rage, and then claims victory — as if what happened is all she ever wanted. It’s utter kabuki that isn’t honest about motive, tactics, or reality. It’s pure self-interest with about five minutes of lazy, wink-wink nudge-nudge effort put into dressing it up as populism (aided by lazy journalists who don’t look too deeply, and will print anything some congressional PR flack tells them).
You can’t have a conversation with that, all you can do is try to drag it into the light and expose it for what it is.
Anyway, good for Ron Paul. I totally agree with him on this one.
Don’t forget to sign the petition: No More Dough Til We Know Where It Goes. We’ll be delivering your comments to Congress soon.