POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

“To innovate is not to reform”—Edmund Burke

by David Trumbull -- November 26, 2010

“…No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law…”United States Constitution Article I Section 9

Or as James Madison explains it in Federalist Number 58

“The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose, the supplies requisite for the support of government. They, in a word, hold the purse that powerful instrument…This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”

Which is precisely why I believe that current attacks on congressional “earmarks” are misguided and counterproductive.

Certainly “earmarking” of funds for specific pet projects has been abused and has contributed to bloated government. However, at least an “earmark” is exactly that, a specific flagged expenditure promoted by some member or members of congress and included in a law which—following public debate and a vote on the record—has been duly authorized by congress. The members of congress are our elected representatives and their Constitutionally-mandated duty is to control the public purse. Furthermore, they must come before the voters every two years for re-election and must defend those votes and the budget they supported.

Get rid of all earmarks and congress will be writing a blank check to un-elected bureaucrats. Those bureaucrats will make the allocations behind closed doors and will never be directly accountable to the voters. Projects will continue to be funded, but who will decide which projects? First off, since every appropriation that congress makes is to fund some executive function, absent congressional direction as to how to spend the money (i.e., “earmarks”) the President ultimately decides. In this manner more power is transferred from congress, the branch of government closest to the people, to the central executive. Secondly, members of congress with important positions on the committees that control the budgets of executive agencies will continue to influence how the money is spent. Now they do so with earmarks in a public law; once earmarks are abolished they will do it with phone calls or visits—behind closed doors with little accountability to the people of the United States.

Beware of those who, under the guise of “reform,” present radical innovations that transfer more power to the central government and further remove important decision-making from the people and their representatives.

[David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee. Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.]