Last week, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) addressed a meeting of the obscure Robert Taft Club, which describes itself (very much like the America's Future Foundation) as "a loose organization of conservatives and libertarians in the Washington, D.C., area."
The standing-room audience gathered in the basement of the Boulevard Woodgrill (down the street from where I live in Clarendon), and irked by the parade of compliments gussied up as questions, I zinged the Christian constitutionalist about his paradoxical earmarking:
Q: Congressman, I have tremendous respect for you, but I was shocked to read, in a Reason magazine profile, that you actually stuff earmarks into appropriation bills, just like every other member of Congress. And I thought you were different, sir. You, of course, vote against the bill[s], but I was curious how you could justify stuffing earmarks, just like every other member of Congress...
A: I think the people that are critical of that don't understand the process.
Because to vote against an earmark doesn't save any money. That's the first issue.
And the second issue is, the spending decision goes to the executive branch, which is wrong. All spending decisions should be by the Congress. So I argue the case that the Congress should make these decisions, since voting against the earmarks, you know, won't do any good.
Now, as far as making the request, you're absolutely right: I vote against them all, so I've never voted for an earmark. You know, because I vote against all of them.
But to make the request, it's sort of like of you coming and asking for your Social Security check. I don't like the system, and I want to change it, but I don't deny your access to your representative.
So I think there is so much understanding about this earmark. It saves no money whatsoever. It emphasizes that you want to give the power to the executive branch and take it away from the responsibility of the Congress.
Now, if it's wasteful, that's a different story, and most of 'em are, and that's why I vote against the bill. So you can't say I voted for an earmark.
But I think I'm responsible for representing the people. To me, it's like taxing a tax credit or a tax deduction. I want to get rid of the income tax, but I'm still gonna give you all the tax credits possible, in order to get as much money as possible. So, to me, it's in that category.
(Thanks to Reason's Dave Weigel for video-taping the exchange and uploading it to YouTube.)
Update: Andy Roth points to a WSJ editorial titled, "Ron Paul's Earmarks":
After reporters started asking questions, the Congressman disclosed his requests this year for about $400 million worth of federal funding for no fewer than 65 earmarks. They include such urgent national wartime priorities as an $8 million request for the marketing of wild American shrimp and $2.3 million to fund shrimp-fishing research.
When we called Mr. Paul's office for an explanation, his spokesperson offered up something worthy of pork legends Tom DeLay or Senator Robert C. Byrd: "Reducing earmarks does not reduce government spending, and it does not prohibit spending upon those things that are earmarked," the spokesman said. "What people who push earmark reform are doing is they are particularly misleading the public—and I have to presume it's not by accident."
Update (10/28/07): James Joyner links to a CQ article that contains a succincter justification:
Still, why play along by earmarking federal spending? Because a crackdown on earmarks, he says, would only grant the executive branch more control over where the money goes. The total amount of spending wouldn’t change. “There’s nothing wrong with designating where the money goes,” Paul says—so long as the earmark is “up front and everyone knows about it,” rather than having it slipped in at the last minute with no scrutiny.
Of course, this sidesteps the real question: Paul claims to vote for nothing that the Constitution doesn't explicitly authorize. Where does the Constitution authorize $3 million to test imported shrimp for antibiotics, or $8 million for the marketing of wild American shrimp, or $2.3 million for shrimp fishing research, or $4.5 million to study the effects of the health risks of vanadium?
Update (11/6/07): The Club for Growth calls a spade a spade:
In defense of his support for earmarks, Rep. Paul took the if you can't beat 'em, join 'em position, arguing that "I don't think they should take our money in the first place. But if they take it, I think we should ask for it back." This is a contradiction of Paul's self-proclaimed "opposition to appropriations not authorized within the enumerated powers of the Constitution."
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