Virtually everyone seems to agree earmarks are part of the problem with the out-of-control spending in Washington. Yet, Oklahoma's lawmakers tucked $68 million worth of earmarks into the recently approved $410 billion spending package. In total, the package contained nearly 9,000 earmarks worth more than nearly $8 billion.
The United States Office of Management and Budget defines earmarks as "funds provided by the Congress for projects or programs where the congressional direction circumvents Executive Branch merit-based or competitive allocation processes, or specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the Executive Branch to manage critical aspects of the funds allocation process."
In other words, bringing home the bacon.
As Oklahoma conservatives go, Sen. James Inhofe appeared to be the most liberal earmark spender, requesting $58 million in state projects. Given the current economic crisis and budget deficits, Sen. Tom Coburn appears to have made no requests, proving himself a real fiscal conservative. Each of the five members of our House congressional delegation had money set aside.
Earmark supporters justify the unapproved spending by saying it's a small percentage of the budget: What's a few extra billion when you're spending trillions? The late Sen. Everett Dirksen once remarked about congressional spending: "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money."
No doubt we all appreciate the federal money paying to fix up our state. The problem is, the U.S. was running huge deficits before the economy went south and now with the "stimulus" bill and bank bailouts, our current deficits have soared into the trillions.
At a time when unemployment is higher than it has been in decades, millions of Americans are facing the prospect of layoffs " and, closer to home, Oklahoma's economy is slowing " you'd think members of Congress and especially those who claim to be conservatives would be looking for ways to cut some level of federal spending. Isn't there some program somewhere that we just don't need anymore, that is just not worth the money, whose costs exceed its benefits?
Not even Oklahoma "conservatives" seem to care about the deficit or the looming threat of inflation from skyrocketing spending. Conservatives rely on tax cuts to build the economy, but you can't cut taxes and increase spending forever. President Bush may have been compassionate, but he sure can't be called conservative after running eight consecutive federal deficits. Our kids will undoubtedly have to pay higher taxes thanks to the inability of Congress to say no to spending.
President Obama said he'd cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term. Notice the president didn't specify an amount; he just said half. Given our current spending spree, Obama and Congress will almost certainly still be running deficits around a trillion dollars four years from now!
State conservatives would do well to lead the charge to end earmarks if we ever hope to get federal spending under control. Otherwise, if you have kids or grandchildren, make sure you thank them. They're the ones who will be paying the bill.
Orza is dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University.