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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to speak in support of Senator Toomey's amendment to permanently ban the use of earmarks in Congress. The underlying bill, the STOCK Act, was designed to end a corrupt practice in Congress. I fully support that goal. But if we are serious about ending corruption in Congress, then we must begin by permanently banning earmarks. It is my belief that these two issues go hand and hand.
One of the most blatant examples of the corruption that stems from earmarking is the case of former U.S. Representative Randy Cunningham who now sits in a Federal penitentiary today for selling earmarks. Among the $2.4 million in bribes Cunningham admitted receiving were the sale of his house at an inflated price, the free use of a yacht, a used Rolls-Royce, antique furniture, Persian rugs, jewelry, and a $2,000 contribution for his daughter's college graduation party. In return, he earmarked untold millions of dollars and pressured the Department of Defense to award contracts to his co-conspirators.
Year after year I have been coming to the Senate floor to speak out against the corrupt practice of Congressional earmarking and I have been joined by many of my colleagues such as Senators Coburn and McCaskill. Even President Obama called for a ban on earmarks in last year's State of the Union speech. The time has come to end this practice once and for all, permanently.
Let me be clear, both Republicans and Democrats have been guilty of wasting valuable taxpayer dollars on these pet projects. And as the moratorium on earmarking expires at the end of this year, we must move forward with a permanent ban to protect the American taxpayer.
Let me remind my colleagues about our current fiscal situation. Our National debt now stands at over $15 trillion and our deficit stands at $1.3 trillion. In fact, this is the fourth year in a row with deficits over a trillion dollars. Unemployment in our country stands at 8.5 percent and according to CBO, unemployment is expected to remain above 8 percent until 2015. Given these dismal economic numbers, are we prepared to tell the American people that we want to go back to the corrupt practice of earmarking and spend their hard-earned tax dollars on pork barrel projects that have little purpose other than to improve the re-election prospects of their authors?
Some of my colleagues are ``happy'' with their earmarking pasts and have justified carrying on the practice by saying that they only account for a small percentage of our annual budget. That may be the case--but is that really reason enough to continue a practice that breeds corruption? I am very aware that earmarks consume a very small percentage of a budget measured in the trillions. But given the serious problems confronting American families, many of whom wake up every morning wondering if they will lose their job or their house, it is appalling that Congress will not stir itself to relinquish any of its self-serving prerogatives in solidarity with the people we serve, who have had to tighten their own budgets, change their spending habits and restrain their ambitions. It is all the more offensive given that we have had in recent times all the evidence we should require to understand that earmarks are so closely tied to acts of official corruption.
In a report titled ``Why Earmarks Matter'' The Heritage Foundation wrote:
They Invite Corruption: Congress does have a proper role in determining the rules, eligibility and benefit criteria for federal grant programs. However, allowing lawmakers to select exactly who receives government grants invites corruption. Instead of entering a competitive application process within a federal agency, grant-seekers now often have to hire a lobbyist to win the earmark auction. Encouraged by lobbyists who saw a growth industry in the making, local governments have become hooked on the earmark process for funding improvement projects.
They Encourage Spending: While there may not be a causal relationship between the two, the number of earmarks approved each year tracks closely with growth in Federal spending.
They Distort Priorities: Many earmarks do not add new spending by themselves, but instead redirect funds already slated to be spent through competitive grant programs or by states into specific projects favored by an individual member. So, for example, if a member of the Nevada delegation succeeded in getting a $2 million earmark to build a bicycle trail in Elko in 2005, then that $2 million would be taken out of the $254 million allocated to the Nevada Department of Transportation (DOT) for that year. So if Nevada had wanted to spend that money fixing a highway in rapidly expanding Las Vegas, thanks to the earmark, they would now be out of luck.
If we want to show the American public that we are really serious about preventing corruption in Congress than we owe it to the American people to completely ban all earmarks in Congress. Senator Toomey's amendment proposes to do just that and I encourage my colleagues to support his amendment.
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