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Public Statements

FDA Food Safety Modernization Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. VOINOVICH. Mr. President, I rise today to express my opposition to the moratorium on earmarks that has been proposed by many of my colleagues.

We have done a lot of crusading around here against these so-called earmarks, or congressionally directed spending items, in our appropriations bills. They are often criticized by Members of Congress when discussing the unsustainable fiscal path of the Federal Government or its irresponsible overspending of taxpayers' dollars.

But my colleagues who oppose the use of earmarks miss the point. Earmarks, whether good or bad, are not the problem with our government. According to data from the Congressional Research Service and the Congressional Budget Office, in fiscal year 2010 earmarks accounted for 0.009 percent of the Federal budget. That is nine one-thousandths of 1 percent. Total earmarks amounted to $32 billion, while the entire Federal budget was over $3.5 trillion. And by the way, I would like to point out that the President-himself requested $22 billion in earmarks.

But the biggest threat we face as a nation is not a special request for this or that project. The biggest threat we face is an unsustainable fiscal course caused by explosive and unchecked growth in entitlement spending and no money to pay for it. We have got an outdated tax code that does not sufficiently encourage economic growth, and a skyrocketing national debt that puts our credit-rating is serious jeopardy. In fiscal year 2010, entitlement spending accounted for 55 percent of the budget, compared with the 0.009 percent for earmarks I just referred to.

Now, I will say that I do agree with much of the criticism expressed in this chamber over bad earmarks. I don't support wasteful use of any taxpayer money, especially for egregiously useless projects that my colleagues often highlight as examples of why we should eliminate earmarks altogether.

But why throw out the baby with the bathwater? Certainly there is both

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good and bad government spending. I support the kind of government spending that facilitates activity that is helpful to my State of Ohio and to our national economy: transportation and infrastructure, for example. And I am perfectly willing to defend that kind of spending and let the public decide whether my decision to help build roads and bridges in Ohio is an outrageous--or a proper--function of Federal Government. The Senate appropriations earmark process is transparent, and I welcome the public review of the projects I support, which I find constructive especially for hard-working, economically challenged families in Ohio.

The truth is Congress has a constitutional obligation to determine how the Nation spends its money. Banning earmarks cedes this power to unelected Federal bureaucrats in the administration. Congress should not be criticized for spending money, but only for spending it wastefully or irresponsibly, be it through earmarks or other spending. But the media loves to single out earmarks; they are hoodwinking people into thinking that by cracking down on earmarks, Congress is doing something responsible to solve this looming fiscal crisis staring us in the face. It's a disingenuous approach. And Congress is fooling the public by pretending that earmarks are the problem, when the real issues are spending and tax and entitlement reform.

It is interesting to note that many of my colleagues who are so strongly opposed to earmarks voted against the Conrad-Gregg fiscal commission that could very well have forced Congress to act upon tax and entitlement reform recommendations. How could one be so outspoken against earmarks in the name of fiscal responsibility and then oppose the commission that would propose reforms to the tax code and entitlements in order to put the country on a fiscally sustainable path?

So if my colleagues want to demonstrate true fiscal responsibility, if they admit that earmarks they have supported in the past are good use of tax dollars, and if they admit that banning earmarks would cede this control of spending from Congress to the administration, then why take such a blunt approach? Why don't we take more thoughtful and nuanced steps outlined by Senator Inhofe, who suggested we reform the already transparent earmark process and offered specific ideas on how to do it? Some of my colleagues practically admit that banning earmarks is not a very good idea per se, but that eliminating them is only politically expedient, as the public has come to see earmarks as a symbol of Washington's irresponsibility.

I don't want the public to be fooled by this. I don't support every earmark. There will always be examples of some wasteful projects somewhere. But earmarks are not the problem that gravely threatens our country's way of life, and the future of our children and grandchildren. This is why for over 5 years I have worked to create a commission to solve our Nation's real fiscal problems, and why I hope that the commission created by the President can produce a final legislative proposal that will effectively address our unchecked entitlement growth, our outdated and overly complex Tax Code, and return our Nation to a sustainable fiscal path.


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