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Public Statements

Taking a Stand Against Earmarks

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By Senator Johanns

After taking office as U.S. Senator, I pledged to never request or support earmarks -- funding tucked into larger legislation aimed at one specific state, city or community. The practice of using earmarks as a legislative tool has evolved over the years, and today we generally consider them to be special requests from individual senators. They lack transparency, competitive awarding, and are often slipped into bills at the 11th hour, in the dead of night. In an effort to achieve a more open process to force more careful consideration of spending requests, I am a cosponsor of a bill aimed at permanently eliminating earmarks.

When I say I oppose earmarks, I don't mean I necessarily oppose every individual project; I oppose them being funded through a shadowy process. Many projects would stand on their merit during a transparent and competitive review. The problem lies in the earmark process: a well-intended bill injected with many earmarks suddenly becomes bloated with special projects and excessive spending.

Earmarks not only add up to hundreds of millions of dollars annually on their own, they serve as incentives for legislators to support larger spending packages. Legislators sometimes support spending tens of billions of dollars simply because a bill contains a few million dollars earmarked for their district. This is not the right way to legislate. If these projects are truly worthy of our hard-earned tax dollars, they should be funded through a transparent method outside the political process. I was pleased a two-year earmark ban was put into place last year; it will expire at the end of 2012 and I believe it should become permanent.

The Earmark Elimination Act literally makes it a violation of Senate rules to consider a bill containing earmarks. If any one senator believes a bill before the Senate contains earmarks, he or she can strike them from the legislation unless two-thirds of the Senate votes to retain them. Federal funds for states should be acquired through open and accountable processes, such as competitive grant programs. As our fiscal situation grows more pressing, we must be increasingly considerate of how we spend your tax dollars and mindful that the federal government borrows 42 cents of every dollar being spent.

The bottom line is our country's debt has skyrocketed to an unsustainable level. If we're going to get our fiscal house in order, we must reevaluate and reconstruct our approach to federal spending. We simply can no longer afford every special project on every public official's wish list. That's the reality we face in 2012. Earmarks represent what's wrong with government spending: excessive, reckless, and unaccountable. We must prove we are good for our debts by reining in spending. This bill is a positive step toward being more fiscally responsible as a country, and I look forward to being one of its advocates in the Senate.


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