And what's at least as important as the spending is the corruption that earmarks breed. Earmarks make giving handouts to political allies easy. Want to reward a campaign donor, or an old buddy from local politics? Earmarks give politicians a way to spend taxpayer money on political rewards.
And because most earmarks are buried in lengthy, complicated appropriations report language that's read by few people, it's tough for many ordinary people to find out how their tax dollars are being spent. When it comes to money, Congress is nothing if not sneaky.
But recent levels of public scrutiny, combined with a handful of legislators who've courageously refused to take part in the culture of Congressional waste, has turned the tied against Washington's spending sneaks. Sens. Jim DeMint and John Shadegg, Rep. Jeff Flake, and current Republican presidential nominee John McCain have all drawn a clear line in the fight against earmarks.
Along with the leadership provided by these legislators, outside pressure has contributed as well. In particular, FreedomWorks, an activist organization of which I am Chairman, has pushed legislators to sign a simple, straightforward pledge that they will refuse to engage in any earmarking whatsoever during the next fiscal year. The pledge can be found online at EarmarkPledge.com. Already, 10 current legislators and five candidates for office have promised to put a stop to this egregious practice.
Indeed, the idea is so powerful and popular that it crosses party lines. Even Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton—both of whom have indulged in hundreds of millions worth of taxpayer-funded pork—have decided to endorse a ban on the practice for the coming year.
Substantial opposition remains from Democratic leadership in Congress and, more troublesomely, from several Republicans whose seats on the appropriations committee give them the most direct access to pork-barrel funds. A bill proposed by Sen. DeMint to halt earmarking was voted down recently, but individual legislators can still take a stand on the issue by promising to abstain from the practice regardless of what other legislators are doing.
Curing Washington's addiction to spending will not be easy. Everyone concerned about the government's abuse of taxpayer funds should let their Congressman know that this practice must end now.
A steady diet of pork has made the big-spenders in Congress fiscally fat and lazy. It's time to trim down Congressional spending and stop the culture of waste and favor-trading that it breeds.