Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How Ron Paul Justifies Earmarks

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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Rye Terrell said:

"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?"

Paul's claim is true. He does not vote for them. But if he knows the bill is going to be passed despite his voting against it, why not return some of the money to the people he represents?

Anonymous said:

That too sidesteps the real question. Where does the Constitution authorize these earmarks?

KineticReaction said:

I think this is nonsense. Ron Paul has done nothing wrong, and you're unfairly smearing a good man with a good message , and I'll explain why.

The spending bills determine what kind of program the money will be spent on, so if they're passed, and they're for an unconstitutional program (like farm subsidies), then nothing Ron Paul does will effect or exasperate that. Requesting earmarks is not ADDING anything unconstitutional to the bill, it is simply determining exactly how that unconstitutional spending bill will be spent.

Here you have 3800 dead Americans in Iraq, a million dead Iraqis, four million Iraqi refugees, Iraq's infrastructure completely destroyed, a generation of Iraqi children that will grow up malnourished and without education, and what are you doing? Trying to smear Ron Paul on earmarks, despite the fact that unlike EVERY OTHER MEMBER OF CONGRESS, he has always voted against the earmarks that his constituents request.

IBC said:

You're quite right, although I think this shows that Ron Paul is much less of a dreamer than he appears. He's not an idiot and he knows how to play the game.

All the same, I almost wish he naively refused unconstitutional government money altogether.

Correct me if I'm mistaken, but his argument is something like a drug dealer saying, "The problem isn't that I sell drugs, it's that people want to buy them. Someone else is going sell them if I don't, so that's the problem, not what I'm doing." Our drug dealer probably even tells the people who buy from him drugs are bad, just like Paul is known for being against spending.

Anonymous said:

I have commented on the earmark "situation" on another blog and almost all of the Ron Paul supporters claim that those who raise legitimate questions about their candidate are trying to "smear" him. Can't you loyal Paul backers just debate this issue without claiming people are trying to attack him? It seems to me, that as others have mentioned, that Ron Paul isn't this "Constitutional Messiah" that he is cracked up to be. Here in Mi., our lawmakers got a pay increase, even if they voted "no". So, a few of them voted against the raise, knowing full well that they would get it. They also pulled a "Ron Paul". They still went around on their moral high horses saying that voted against the bill, and they kept the extra cash. Seems very similar to me. I know I will be accused of "smearing" Rep. Paul., but oh well.

Anonymous said:

Here's what kills me about this.....Ron Paul is BY FAR the least hypocritical of politicians. Yet because he submits requests to change the direction (NOT the level) or spending, people are trying to throw him in with all of the other politicians.

Earmarks are typically added to get a politician's support for a bill. That is clearly not the case here since Ron Paul votes against all of these bills. This is VERY different from how other politicians view this.

Whether you agree with Ron Paul's approach to earmarks or not you are being naive if you think that his approach is evidence of Ron Paul being no different from the other politicians on this issue.

Kevin Craig said:

Anonymous said, Can't you loyal Paul backers just debate this issue without claiming people are trying to attack him? But Jonathan Rick is trying to smear Ron Paul.

Notice his motivation is not to support Ron Paul: he admits he is "irked by the parade of compliments gussied up as questions" so he zinged the Christian constitutionalist about his paradoxical earmarking."

What is the difference between "zing" and "smear" or "attack?"

"Christian" in this context is an irrelevant ad hominem attack.

The message being sent is, "Don't bother taking Ron Paul's call for smaller government seriously. Even he can't live without big government. Get used to it. Give up the fight."

Clearly an attack on Ron Paul and his message.

brando said:

I'm just curious (nothing against Paul), but how does not putting earmarks into a bill not reduce spending? They say that if you don't put earmarks in, the exec. branch will spend the money, but how the hell does that work? I mean, if the stimulus bill didn't have nearly as many earmarks, it wouldn't be as big!

And where in the Constitution, Congressman Paul, does it say that FEDERAL revenues can be spent on state and local projects? Where does it say it's ok to use federal monies for things that only benefit particular states or individual districts?

I mean, if the money goes to the exec. branch agencies, you know it's only going to be spent on projects within the purview of that particular Cabinet agency, so it's a lot more limited than putting pork into a bill for any old silly project. Plus, it's more likely that a federal cabinet agency will spend the money on FEDERAL projects than Congressmen's earmarks will.

brando said:

As far as I'm concerned, all earmarks are unconstitutional. I mean, if Congress wants to limit exec. branch spending, they could easily do that, couldn't they? Just pass an amendment or two in the bill saying "You cannot spend the money on a, b, and c." It can't that fucking hard! Paul's justification seems baseless considering what I've just said.

Revenue sharing, grants in aid, and earmarks are all unconstitutional, far as I'm concerned. I'm pretty sure the Founders intended for FEDERAL money to be spent on FEDERAL projects, not state or local. States and localities can spend their own money on their own stuff.

brando said:

And why are earmarks so necessary for Congress to authorize anyhow? Why can't state congressmen authorize the spending? Are they too lame or stupid or just absent-minded to ask for it in their houses of government?

Or is it because state governments are so in debt that they have to rely on the fucking federal gov't?

Rollin Shultz said:

I think all of us need to do some research and find out just how earmarks work. In Paul's case it seems as though they are chess pieces.

I am going to see if I can get a better understanding of this.