Earmark Reform

In his March 16, 2009 column “More Earmarks – Less GovernmentRon Paul explains how earmarks increase transparency by assigning funds (that would otherwise be spent by secretive bureaucrats) to a specific and fully accountable purpose:

If a congressman does not submit funding requests for his district the money is simply spent elsewhere. To eliminate all earmarks would be to further consolidate power in the already dominant executive branch and not save a penny. Furthermore, designating how money is spent provides a level of transparency and accountability over taxpayer dollars that we don’t have with general funds. I argue that all spending should be decided by Congress so that we at least know where the money goes. This has been a major problem with TARP funding. The public and Congress are now trying to find out where all that money went. More…

On March 10, 2009, Ron Paul spoke on the House floor about the true nature of earmarks and how all spending should be “earmarked”, i.e. we should know how our money is being spent:


Ron Paul: Thank you, Madame Speaker. I would like to address the subject of earmarks today. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding here among the members about exactly what it means to vote against an earmark. It’s very popular today to condemn earmarks and even hold up legislation because of this.

The truth is that if you removed all the earmarks from the budget you would remove 1% of the budget. So there’s not a lot of savings. But, even if you voted against all the earmarks, actually, you don’t even save the 1% because you don’t save any money. What is done is those earmarks are removed and some of them are very wasteful and unnecessary, but that money then goes to the executive branch.

So, in many ways what we are doing here in the Congress is reneging on our responsibilities. Because it is the responsibility of the Congress to earmark. That’s our job. We’re supposed to tell the people how we’re spending the money. Not to just deliver it in the lump sum to the executive branch and let them deal with it. And then it’s dealt with behind the scenes. Actually, if you voted against all the earmarks there would be less transparency. Earmarks really allow transparency and we know exactly where the money is being spent.

You know, the big issue is the spending. If you don’t like the spending, vote against the bill. But the principle of earmarking is something that we have to think about because we’re just further undermining the responsibilities that we have here in the Congress. And if we want to get things under control it won’t be because we vote against an earmark and make a big deal of attacking earmarks because it doesn’t address the subject.

In reality what we need are more earmarks. Just think of the 350 billion dollars that we recently appropriated and gave to the Treasury Department. Now everybody is running around and saying, “We don’t know where the money went, we just gave it to them in a lump sum”. We should have earmarked everything. It should have been designated where the money is going. So instead of too many earmarks we don’t have enough earmarks. Transparency is the only way we can get to the bottom of this and if you make everything earmarked it would be much better.

The definition of an earmark is very, very confusing. If you would vote to support the embassy in Baghdad which came up to nearly a billion dollars, that’s not called an earmark. But if you have an earmark for a highway or a building here in the United States, that is called an earmark. But if you vote for a weapons system, it would support and help a district and that’s not considered an earmark. When people are yelling and screaming about getting rid of earmarks, they’re not talking about getting rid of weapons systems or building buildings and bridges and highways in foreign countries. They only talk about [earmarks] when it is designated that certain money will be spent a certain way in this country.

And, ultimately, where we really need some supervision and some earmarks are the trillions of dollars spent by the Federal Reserve. They get to create their money out of thin air and spend it. They have no responsibility to tell us anything. Under the law they are excluded from telling us where and what they do. So we neglect telling the Treasury how to spend TARP money and then we complain about how they do it.

But just think literally: the Treasury is miniscule compared to what the Federal Reserve does. The Treasury gets hundreds of billions, which is huge, of course, and then we neglect to talk about the Federal Reserve where they are creating money out of thin air and supporting all their friends and taking care of certain banks and certain corporations. And this, to me, has to be addressed.

I’ve introduced a bill, and it’s called H.R. 1207, and this bill would remove the restriction on us to find out what the Federal Reserve is doing. Today, the Federal Reserve under the law is not required to tell us anything. So, all my bill does is remove this restriction and say, “Look, the Federal Reserve, you have a lot of power, you have too much power, you’re spending a lot of, you’re taking care of people that we have no idea what you’re doing, we in the Congress have a responsibility to know exactly what you are doing”.

This bill, H.R. 1207 will allow us, for once-and-for-all, to have some supervision of the Federal Reserve. They’re exempt from telling us anything and they have stiffed us already. There have been lawsuits filed over the Freedom of Information Act. Believe me, there’re not going to work because the law protects the Federal Reserve. The Constitution doesn’t protect the Federal Reserve, the Constitution protects the people and allows them to know exactly what is going on. We should enforce the Constitution. We should not enforce these laws that protect a secret bank that gets to create this money out of thin air.

So the sooner we in the Congress wake up to our responsibilities, understand what earmarks are all about, and understand why we need a lot more earmarks, then we will come to our senses. We might then have a more sensible monetary and banking system instead of the system that has brought us to this calamity. So the sooner we realize that, I think it will be better for the taxpayer.

On April 10, 2008, Ron Paul gave the following speech before Congress:

Ron Paul: Madame Speaker, abuses of the earmark process by members of both parties demonstrate the need for reform. However earmarks are hardly the most serious problem facing this country. In fact, many, if not most of the problems with earmarks can be fixed by taking simple steps to bring greater transparency to the appropriations process. While I support reforms designed to shine greater sunlight on the process by which members seek earmarks, I fear that some of my colleagues have forgotten that the abuses of the earmarking process are a symptom of the problems with Washington, not the cause. The root of the problem is an out-of-control federal budget. I am also concerned that some reforms proposed by critics of earmarking undermine the separation of powers by eroding the constitutional role Congress plays in determining how federal funds are spent.

Contrary to popular belief, adding earmarks to a bill does not increase federal spending by even one penny. Spending levels for the appropriation bills are set before Congress adds a single earmark to a bill. The question of whether or not the way the money is spent is determined by earmarks or by another means does not effect the total amount of spending.

Since reforming, limiting, or even eliminating earmarks does nothing to reduce federal spending, I have regarded the battle over earmarks as a distraction from the real issue– the need to reduce the size of government. Recently, opponents of earmarks have embraced an approach to earmark reform that undermines the constitutional separation of powers by encouraging the president to issue an executive order authorizing federal agencies to disregard congressional earmarks placed in committee reports.

Since the president’s executive order would not reduce federal spending, the practical result of such an executive order would be to transfer power over the determination of how federal funds are spent from Congress to unelected federal bureaucrats. Since most earmarks are generated by requests from our constituents, including local elected officials, such as mayors, this executive order has the practical effect of limiting taxpayers’ ability to influence the ways the federal government spends tax dollars.

Madame Speaker, the drafters of the Constitution gave Congress the powers of the purse because the drafters feared that allowing the branch of government charged with executing the laws to also write the federal budget would concentrate too much power in one branch of government. The founders correctly viewed the separation of law-making and law-enforcement powers as a vital safeguard of liberty. Whenever the president blatantly disregards orders from Congress as to how federal funds should be spent, he is undermining the constitutional separation of powers.

Congress has already all but ceded its authority to declare war to the executive branch. Now we are giving away our power of the purse. Madame Speaker, the logical conclusion of the arguments that it is somehow illegitimate for members of Congress to control the distribution of federal funds in their district is that Congress should only meet one week a year to appropriate a lump sum to be given to the president for him to allocate to the federal government as he sees fit.

Madame Speaker, all members should support efforts to bring greater transparency to the earmarking process. However, we must not allow earmarking reform to distract us from what should be our main priority–restricting federal spending by returning the government to its constitutional limitations. I also urge my colleagues not to allow the current hysteria over earmarks to justify further erosion of our constitutional authority to control the federal budget.

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  • regisjbeakensr

    i totally agree for accountability and that goes for everyone including our dictator. we need people voting every bill and feedback on our reps. and senate each vote is published due to accountability

    wanting to know if my repvotes like the public. if he doesn’t vote our way he is a problem needs to go

    so peoples vote should control at least half the vote if a tie most overall votes win. the present system gives democrats this term the advantage. next term probably republicans but they hold back issues that are simple i replied to all your issues and intelligently in one paragraph. bill should be exact to the point and no room for lawyers twisting the law no abortion period. one exception if it could kill the mother no other exceptions. why 80 pages of bull backtalk that confuses the writer and has loopholes everywhere


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  • I see, we need more earmarks, not less. OK.

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  • Jeff

    I wonder if people understand what “earmarks” are in these bills that we hear about? It seems that, in order to decide how best to deal with them, we must first understand what they are and how they come to be a part of our political process.

    Firstly, earmarks are not hidden messages slipped into the pages of bills that appropriate billions to congressional pet projects or slush-funds. In fact, the amount of money appropriated by earmarks makes up a rather small percentage of the national budget. These earmarks are the result of congressmen and women doing their job. When on the campaign trail, congressional candidates will promise to bring funds for projects that the state is working on. For example, bridge or education projects that need federal funding are proposed by congressmen from that state. In many cases, those funds are denied when the original request is put forward. The only way a congressman can then get those funds is by adding the appropriation to the bill. Since that’s the case, it should be pretty easy to figure out who is putting what earmarks into these pieces of legislation.

    Secondly, earmark reform is a very important thing, but it has nothing to do with the balance of power in our government. It is not fair to ask the American people to give money to some projects, such as the bridge to nowhere. Some things are important, like health clinics and school textbooks, but not everything is worthy of federal aid. But even with earmarks, the budget is in the hands of the congress. They agree on all appropriations and then pass it off to the president for approval. Now, in theory, the president could take some earmarks out and put others in, but there’s a process for this which forces the bill to then go back to congress for re-approval. I suppose I don’t understand just how earmarks shift power from congress to the President.

    So, next time you are taking advantage of a federally-funded program in your home state, say a silent thank-you to the earmark that helped make it possible.

  • According to the founding fathers, government should be no larger than 14% to 17% of the population taken by the census.
    In addition, the framers wrote that European, communist, or monarchy style legislation is unconstitutional.
    The Vice president is the most important part of our government because he/she is chair of the senate.
    The senate must stay in constitutional order. The Vice President must be setting in on all sessions to keep the senate in point of order, and break any tie vote.
    These types of legislation should never get out of the senate, European, communist, or monarchy. These bills must be sent back to the house to be reworked.
    Should it get out of the senate and through the committees and to the president’s desk the president must turn to the people and read the legislation to the them and explain the type of legislation and get the people to get their house to remove that legislation or he will veto the bill.
    How many Vice Presidents and Presidents has adhered to the founding fathers wishes since the ratification of the Bill Of Rights?
    I submit to you, not one.
    Think about it.

  • In order to intelligently discuss Earmark Reform could someone here please answer some basic questions for me? I’ve become somewhat confused with opinions after reading these posts. Please be clear and concise with simple explanations.

    How does the earmark process work?

    Does an earmark add or subtract from the original appropriation?

    When, why and how did the earmark process start?

    What are some of the major earmark reforms being proposed by Ron Paul?

    Thank you. JB. RON PAUL 2012

    • Fuscia


      Likely the best place to start. ^^

      In the transcript above, Ron Paul appears to be vying for more clarification and recognized spending through the use of earmarks. This would likely make the “missing money” audit friendly and reduce government waste according to Ron Paul.

  • Jeff Olson

    ” In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.”

    John Adams

  • Jan

    March 27-29, 2009
    The Free Market, Financial Style
    How the Scam Works
    Newspaper reports seem surprised at how high banks are bidding for the junk mortgages that Treasury Secretary Geithner is now bidding for, having mobilized the FDIC and Fed to transfer yet more public funds to the banks. Bank stocks are soaring – thereby bidding up the Dow Jones Industrial Average, as if the “financial industry” really were part of the industrial economy.
    Why are the very worst offenders – Bank of America (now owner of the Countrywide crooks) and Citibank the largest buyers? As the worst abusers and packagers of CDOs, shouldn’t they be in the best position to see how worthless their junk mortgages are?

    That turns out to be the key! Obviously, the government has failed to protect itself – deliberately, intentionally failed to do so – in order to let the banks pull off the following scam.
    Suppose a bank is sitting on a $10 million package of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) that was put together by, say, Countrywide out of junk mortgages. Given the high proportion of fraud (and a recent Fitch study found that every package it examined was rife with financial fraud), this package may be worth at most only $2 million as defaults loom on Alt-A “liars’ loan” mortgages and subprime mortgages where the mortgage brokers also have lied in filling out the forms for hapless borrowers or witting operators taking out mortgages at far more than properties were worth and pocketing the excess.
    The bank now offers $3 million to buy back this mortgage. What the hell, the more they bid, the more they get from the government. So why not bid $5 million. (In practice, friendly banks may bid for each other’s junk CDOs.) The government – that is, the hapless FDIC – puts up 85 per cent of $5 million to buy this – namely, $4,250,000. The bank only needs to put up 15 per cent – namely, $750,000.
    Here’s the rip-off as I see it. For an outlay of $750,000, the bank rids its books of a mortgage worth $2 million, for which it receives $4,250,000. It gets twice as much as the junk is worth.
    The more the banks holding junk mortgages pay for this toxic waste, the more the government will pay as part of its 85 per cent. So the strategy is to overpay, overpay, and overpay. Paying 15 per cent is a small price to pay for getting the government to put in 85 per cent to take the most toxic waste off your books.
    The free market at work, financial style.
    Michael Hudson is a former Wall Street economist. A Distinguished Research Professor at University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC), he is the author of many books, including Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (new ed., Pluto Press, 2002) He can be reached at [email protected]

    • To Michael Hudson.

      You are seriously mistaken with your statement “The free market at work, financial style.” The Fed.Govt. created this scam upon itself by inventing the process through FDIC,Fanny & Freddy; insisting on the banks participation with the threat of withholding Federal Reserve $$.

      Whether this was an intentional conspiracy by the Federal Govt. and the banks, as you suppose, is yet to be proven. What was their motive? I believe the Govt. in it’s arrogance and ignorance brought this upon us, the Citizen Taxpayer. The real “Ultimate Lender of Last Resort”.

      Without the Govt’s. coercion of the Free Market lenders in this equation these loans would never have been made. The Federal Govt. set itself up to be conned by putting into action their Progressive Socialist belief of Equal Outcomes. It’s just not fair that people who can’t afford a loan, (home nor credit card) can’t get one because they don’t qualify. “I’m from the Gov’t and I’m here to help.” Just because you didn’t make enough $$ to pay taxes doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a tax refund.

      The real problem here is too much arrogant & ignorant Federal interference in our lives. The Federal Gov. has given to itself powers far beyond those outlined in the Constitution. “Kick the Bums Out.” JB.

      END THE FEDRon Paul 2012

      You also reference Michael Hudson as a source for this “Free Market” catastrophe . Please provide a direct quote

  • charlie herrmann

    I ask 3 things:
    1. Where, without reading the entire bills, can a list be seen showing the names, state, amount and purpose for “earmarks” in each bill?
    2. Given the current Fed. spending (earkmarks included) what are the ratios by state of tax money rec’d and $ spent in that state?

    3. Taxes are for spending both at the fed level (defense) and the local level (bridges). Without the “hidden” process of earmarks how better could we spend our money locally? I suggest the Feds “skim” a known % for the defense et al issues and then return the difference paid in by state to the state to spend as they see fit based on the ratios in #2 above.

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  • Thomas W. Carroll

    I want to know why you talk about earmark and you have and you have millions of earmarks. Is this pay back for campaign contributions? T Carroll

    • Nate Y

      It is obviously not payback for campaign contributions. Earmarks provide transparency of spending. They allow people to know exactly how the funds are being spent. It’s not like Representatives just “earmark” a lump sum of cash to disburse at their discretion. Nope, that’s the job of the Federal governement. Did you read RP’s speech?

    • Dave

      RP is doing 2 things: fighting for reform, and in the meantime playing the game to win. In the current landcape of politics, the fed taxes everyone, skims some money off the top, and then redistributes their money back them. RP says this shouldn’t be happening, thus eliminate the income tax. However, seeing as that isn’t happening anytime soon, he has to represent and support his constiuents by earmarking their money back to them.

      It’s the unfortunate truth, he could not earmark out of principle that the fed shouldn’t be taxing people anyways, but that would screw his state over. He has to play the game to win until such time as he is successful in changing the way dollars flow to goverment.

      • will

        the real big problem with earmarks is that congress for the most part(rp and a few will)do not read earmark bills but just pass them! they are the most transparent, and they should always be there but need to be read through! the omnibus bill has set aside tattoo removal mission hills ca.! that is a bad earmark! i hope i am coming off right in how i am saying it but more earmarks is great, but make sure they are truely needed!

  • Dave

    I only wish RP would articulate in this debate on earmarks his position on local authority of tax collection, and reduction of taxes provided to the fed. The American tax payer sees such a small amount of their federal dollars actually made available back to them because of federal overhead, the central spending in various programs, etc. If all the federal programs that were reallocated back to the states were instead just taxed at the local level, more money would actually be spent in the local infrastructure instead of lost to the fed in operating costs and various social and military programs (or some best friend’s contract award).

    It’s not the earmarks that are the problem, its the fact that the fed has claimed power to distribute funds that the states should be collecting themselves. That of course then inherently passes the power from the states to the fed.