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Tax On Bonuses Received From Certain TARP Receipients

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. INOUYE. Madam President, the amendment offered by the Senator from South Carolina is, simply stated, a misguided attempt which would turn over the power of the purse to the executive branch. It will not save a penny toward the deficit. It will allow unelected bureaucrats who have no accountability to voters to determine how Federal tax dollars are expended instead of the Congress.

Despite the protestations of a few Senators and an active media campaign spurred on by well-financed so-called watchdogs, this amendment is a solution to a problem that does not exist.

For the sake of my colleagues who may still want to support a moratorium on earmarks, let me point out where we are at this moment. Since retaking the majority in 2006, the Democratic-led Congress has reduced funding for earmarks by more than 50 percent.

As the new chairman of the appropriations committee last year I vowed with the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Representative Obey, that we would continue on the path set by former Chairman Byrd to reduce earmarks until they represented less than 1 percent of discretionary spending.

We achieved that objective in the fiscal year 2010 Appropriations Bills, and we have agreed that we will not exceed 1 percent as long as we are chairmen of our respective committees.

If we look at the numbers in 2006, the completed appropriations Acts included $16.7 billion in what are called ``Non-project Based Earmarks.

Madam President, $8.4 billion of these were in defense and the remainder in non-defense programs. In the fiscal year 2010 bills, we ended the year with a total of $8.2 billion in earmarks, $4.1 billion in defense and $4.1 billion in non-defense, well below 50 percent of the amount in 2006.

As a percentage of discretionary spending, non-project based earmarks are hardly 1/2 of 1 percent. Not only have we accomplished our objective, we have exceeded our goal.

I am sure others will cite different numbers and try to say that we have many more earmarks than we are counting. The earmark definition that we use for FY 2010 is the one that comes from the Senate rules. Other outside groups may want to consider additional congressional items as earmarks, but we can only go by what the Senate has declared as earmarks.

In summation, let me say this. Since the Democrats have retaken the Congress we have reduced earmarks by more than 50 percent. We are well below 1 percent of total discretionary spending for non-project based earmarks, and we will not be going above 1 percent as long as I am Chairman.

As the Senate considers this amendment, I believe it is time we have an honest debate about the overall subject of earmarks. What they are and what they aren't.

First and foremost, earmarks have nothing to do with the deficit. And let me say that another way to make sure everyone understands.

If we eliminate all earmarks this year or forever, it will not save a nickel in Federal spending. Not a dime. Not this year, next year, or ever.

So to continue on this theme, if we adopt the amendment from the senator from South Carolina, we won't save a penny in fiscal year 2010 or fiscal year 2011. We just change who gets to decide what we spend.

The definition of an earmark is to carve out funding from a budget for a specific purpose. It is not adding to the budget. When we specify that we want an agency to spend a portion of its budget on a specific item we aren't increasing that agency's budget, we are simply reallocating funding within the budget for that purpose.

If that is not completely understood let's look at it this way. The president submits his request to the Congress for funding by agency and budget functions.

Our budget committee reviews the funding requested and tells the appropriations committee how much funding it can spend in the budget resolution.

The budget resolution makes no assumptions about earmarks. It doesn't designate earmark levels in any way, shape or form.

The appropriations committee then divides the total funding provided in the budget resolution among its subcommittees.

The committee doesn't increase an allocation for earmarks, nor does it reduce the allocation if earmarks are not funded.

Instead it provides the subcommittee with a total amount it can spend. For example, the Foreign Operations subcommittee usually chooses not to proide earmarks. That doesn't change the amount of spending the subcommittee provides.

If the Senate adopts this amendment it will dictate that the fiscal year 2011 there will be no earmarks, but the budget committee won't be reducing the allocation to the appropriations committee. The appropriations committee won't reduce the subcommittee allocations. We will just defer to the executive branch to determine how taxpayer funds are spent.

So this debate like all others on the issue of earmarks is who gets to determine how taxpayer funds are allocated, the congress or the Executive Branch?

All my colleagues are aware that the Constitution requires the Congress to determine where our Nation's funds should be spent. There can be no argument on that.

Why then do a handful of members persist in advocating the elimination of the congressional discretion to allocate funds?

Some raise the factor of corruption. We are all too aware the role that earmarks played in the corruption and eventual conviction of one Republican member of the House of Representatives.

While other corruption has swept other Members of the House, little of that had to do with earmarks. It has involved paid vacations or gifts. It has had to do with sweetheart deals in legislation, or possible bribes for legislative favors.

Moreover, the appropriations committee has enacted reforms to minimize any possible chance of corruption by increasing transparency.

As Chairman I now require members to place all of their earmarks on their website 30 days before we act upon their requests.

We then post all earmarks that are to be included in appropriations bills on the committee's website 24 hours before the full committee takes action on the bill.

Furthermore, as directed under Senate Rules, we require each Senator to certify that he or she has no pecuniary interest in any earmark that is requested.

We cannot legislate morality. What we can do and have done, however, is to put safeguards in place to ensure that our actions are above board, transparent, and in the best interest of our constituents.

Clearly if this amendment were to become law it would change who does the earmarking, not whether earmarks are done.

On February 1, the President submitted his appropriations requests to the Congress. The staff of the appropriations committee has begun its detailed examination of that request.

My colleagues should know that our review by the staff and the members of our subcommittees takes months to complete. However, in our preliminary review of the budget we have discovered that the President has requested earmarks totalling $25 billion.

This is a conservative estimate of the executive branch's earmarks and it
uses the same criteria as we would use to identify a congressional spending earmark, specific location or entity, noncompetitive award, and specific dollar amount.

In this first assessment, we find that the administration request exceeds congressional earmarks that were approved last year by more than 100 percent, twice as much.

This amendment would do nothing to stop the practice of earmarking, but rather only eliminate the congressional influence in that process.

But for those who want to persist in championing this amendment as a reform, they should seriously think about the following information.

Last week, the democratic leadership of the House Appropriations Committee announced that they no longer would include earmarks done on behalf of for-profit entities, that means for all practical purposes, private companies.

The reaction from the lobbying community and other interested parties was swift.

According to a March 11 Washington Post article:

Lobbyists said a prohibition against for profit earmarks will shift their focus from Capitol Hill to the Federal agencies.

Mr. Alan Chvotkin, a lobbyist for the Professional Services Council, was also quoted saying:

There will be greater attention focused on protecting programs in the President's Budget.

Lobbyists and oversight organizations both agree--the lobbyists will simply go around the Congress and attempt to get their earmarks in the President's Request.

A story that appeared in the March 11 edition of Roll Call reports that Bill Allison of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for government transparency, said earmarks should remain in appropriations bills.

``The dangerous earmarkers are those going underground,'' Mr. Allison said. ``The real solution is to make them transparent.''

Instead of banning earmarks, Mr. Allison said Congress should focus on creating a centralized place for the public to see who is requesting earmarks and an easily navigable process for following an earmark from start to finish.

Let me say for the record we already do that.

And finally, this from Laura Peterson of Taxpayers for Common Sense, an organization that has been outspoken in its criticism of the appropriations committee.

In a March 10 Congressional Quarterly article, she said:

Any ban on spending defined as earmarks could end up increasing the practice of securing funding without formally requesting an earmark. I would be concerned that some earmarks might just migrate to the appropriations bills as committee adds.

If it weren't so serious it would be almost laughable. Under this amendment, we won't eliminate earmarks, we will only eliminate our role, a role the Constitution has assigned to the Congress.

Moreover, all our efforts at making earmarks more transparent would be rendered moot.

The reforms we have implemented, which ensured full and open disclosure of who sponsors earmarks, as well as who has given money to those sponsoring earmarks, would be irrelevant.

Instead, we will have these decisions made by unelected bureaucrats in back rooms of agencies scattered all over this city. Is this the transparency that earmark opponents desired? I think not.

I don't understand why those who are the most opposed to the policies of the current president are so intent on putting additional power into his hands and those who serve the Executive Branch. Article I of the Constitution states very clearly:

No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.

The DeMint amendment tramples on the framework established by our founding fathers. In fact, James Madison believed the power of the purse to be the most important power of congress. He called it ``The most complete and effectual weapon with which any Constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people.''

I want all my colleagues to understand what we are doing today. I want everyone watching this body on the television to understand what we are doing today, so that in the future, no one can say, ``I didn't know.''

This amendment shifts the power to designate the expenditure of and accountability for taxpayers' hard earned dollars away from the representatives they elected, to the Executive Branch, where unelected bureaucrats who are accountable to no taxpayer will make the decisions of where those dollars will be spent.

There were indeed corruptions in the earmark process in the past. No one will dispute that. A Republican member of the House was convicted for corruption related to earmarking.

But we as Democrats addressed that issue when we came into power. We implemented reforms which ensured full and open disclosure of who sponsors earmarks, as well as who has given money to those sponsoring earmarks. It is all outlined for the world to see.

Now with this amendment, not only is transparency in the Congress not continued, but we are shifting the decisionmaking related to billions of dollars--which is another way of saying earmarking--to unelected bureaucrats.

As I said, now with this amendment, not only is transparency in the Congress not continued, but we are shifting the decision-making related to billions of dollars--which is another way of saying earmarking--to unelected bureaucrats that do not have to post anything about their relationships to recipients, who they meet with, when they meet with them, or who bought them dinner. None of those reporting requirements apply to unelected bureaucrats.

I am a strong proponent of earmarks. I am proud to sponsor earmarks that meet the needs of my constituents. Like every other Member of this body, I believe I understand the needs of my State better than the bureaucrats downtown do. I am closer to the people of Hawaii and I owe my allegiance to them.

I will continue to support earmarks for Hawaii as I will support the legitimate earmarks from other members of this institution.

The founders of our great Nation in their wisdom correctly placed the power of the purse in the hands of our elected legislators.

Those who seek to overturn that decision by placing artificial constraints on our ability to carry out that mandate are ultimately undermining our Nation's freedoms. They would create a system where there is no accountability to the voter on how their tax dollars are spent.

This amendment is one of many this institution has faced and will continue to face that seeks to alter the way taxpayer funds are allocated.

Perhaps unwittingly, but if enacted it would turn over spending decisions to the executive branch and weaken our separation of powers. We should not tolerate that.

Finally, to remind my colleagues, this amendment won't save a nickel. It has no impact on the deficit. The amendment serves no purpose other than to take away the Congress's right to determine how funds are allocated. I urge all my colleagues to reject this amendment.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The time of the Senator from Hawaii has expired.

Mr. INOUYE. Madam President, I thank you very much and I hope this amendment is defeated.


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