When you decide how to spend your paycheck, you have to set priorities and live within your means. Congress needs to do the same thing with the money you send to Washington. That was one of the clear messages American voters sent in the mid-term elections. And one of the best ways we can impose more discipline on federal spending is by addressing the problem of earmarks.
Earmarks are spending provisions that are often slipped into bills at the last minute, so they never get debated or discussed. It is not surprising that this often leads to unnecessary federal spending — such as a swimming pool or a teapot museum tucked into a big spending bill. And over the last decade, the Congressional Research Service reports that the number of earmarks has exploded — increasing from about 3,000 in 1996 to 13,000 in 2006. I respect Congress’s authority over the public purse, but the time has come to reform the earmark process and dramatically reduce the number of earmarks.
Reforming earmarks is the responsibility of both political parties. Over the past year, the Republican Congress succeeded in eliminating virtually all earmarks for three major Cabinet departments. And I’m pleased that Democratic leaders in Congress recently committed themselves to support reforms that would restore transparency and accountability to earmarks. For this year’s budget, they pledged to maintain current levels of spending and not include any earmarks. And they agreed to a temporary moratorium on earmarks.
This is a good start, but Congress needs to do much more. My administration will soon lay out a series of reforms that will help make earmarks more transparent, that will hold the members who propose earmarks more accountable, and that will help reduce the number of earmarks inserted into large spending bills.