Earmarks Are Not the Problem

The fact increasing numbers of legislators are “willing to vote against big government than in past years” is not because the practice of earmarks was ended but because “the liberty movement has led to more liberty-minded members being elected to the House and Senate,” says Ron Paul. 

By Dr. Ron Paul

Last week President Trump urged Congress to reassert its constitutional authority to direct how federal agencies spend taxpayer dollars. Ironically, many constitutional conservatives and libertarians disagree with the president. The reason is, President Trump wants Congress to reassert its authority by bringing back earmarks.

Earmarks are line items in spending bills directing federal agencies to spend federal funds on specific projects in a representative or senator’s district or state. Congress ended the practice of earmarks several years ago after a public outcry fueled by a widespread misunderstanding of the issue.

Earmarks are added to spending bills after the spending levels have been determined. Therefore, earmarks do not increase federal spending. What earmarks do is limit the federal bureaucrats’ ability to decide how to spend taxpayer money.

When I served in Congress, I was amazed when self-proclaimed constitutionalists complained about how earmarks prevented funding of federal bureaucrats’ priorities. These “constitutionalists” seem to have forgotten that the Constitution gives Congress sole authority over deciding how taxpayer dollars should be spent.

My support for earmarks in Congress did not add one penny to the spending in the bills. I believed that some of the tax money sent to Washington should actually make it back to congressional districts rather than remain in the hands of Washington bureaucrats. In the end, I always voted against final passage of the bloated spending bills.

Some call earmarks a gateway drug to big spending. They point to how congressional leadership denied earmarks to members unless the members voted for big spending and other anti-liberty legislation. It is true that congressional leadership used earmarks to reward and punish members. During my years in Congress, earmarks for my district were stripped from bills in an (unsuccessful) attempt to make me stop voting against unconstitutional legislation.

Congressional leaders do not need earmarks to reward or punish members. They can, for example, deny plum committee assignments to those who refuse to toe the party line, or discourage donors from supporting them.

Presidents can still use the promise of federal funds to influence congressional votes. “Presidential earmarks” were crucial to passing Obamacare, and President Trump has threatened to withhold aid from states whose senators oppose his agenda. The removal of earmarks has given the president even greater influence over the legislative branch!

The fact that there are more representatives and senators willing to vote against big government than in past years has nothing to do with the lack of earmarks. Instead, the liberty movement has led to more liberty-minded members being elected to the House and Senate.

While the ideas of liberty are growing in popularity, the majority of the people and certainly most politicians still believe the U.S. government should run the economy, run the world, and run our lives. This misplaced faith in big government, not the presence of earmarks, is why most politicians vote for big spending. No politician ever said, “Now that I can’t receive earmarks, I am abandoning my support for the welfare-warfare state.”

Earmarks are a way for elected representatives to ensure their constituents’ tax dollars are spent in a manner that matches constituent priorities. Earmarks do not by themselves expand government. Those who oppose earmarks should work to stop so many Americans from demanding government-provided economic and personal security. Earmarks are not the cause of runaway spending, and removing them has done little or nothing to shrink government and regain our liberties.

Ron Paul, a former U.S. representative from Texas and medical doctor, continues to write his weekly column for the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, online at ronpaulinstitute.org.

1 Comment on Earmarks Are Not the Problem

  1. Dr. Paul, I agree with you that earmarks are not the problem; organized crime operating as government is the problem. I learned more from you over the past 40+ years than from any other politician or statesman; but you appear to be married to the past.

    Nothing will change in D.C. until We The People take Congress *out of that city-state forever*. Rob McBride, our Director of Marketing, was with you in your office about six weeks ago and told you as much. I followed up by sending you my booklets including ‘TACTICAL CIVICS™’ and ‘Our First Right Now’…



    I offered to drive over there so you could interview me for your show. But we never heard back from you; as on the half dozen occasions in the past when we have reached out to you in good faith because of the high regard I have always had for you.

    Quite frankly, having preached stridently for many years against the Fear Porn industry, I’m increasingly certain that you too play that game. It’ a game that must end, brother, if We The People are to turn the tide against the Deep State and its allied hordes of illegals, jihadists, feminists, transsexuals and other perverts kicking at the gates today. Your strong endorsement of TACTICAL CIVICS™ could finally begin to make the draconian reforms that you have spoken about for decades.

    Why do you refuse to take action, Dr. Paul?

    D.M. Zuniga

Comments are closed.