The Instigator
The_Silent_Consensus
Con (against)
Losing
14 Points
The Contender
RoyLatham
Pro (for)
Winning
17 Points

Congressional Earmarks

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/10/2009 Category: Politics
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 5,284 times Debate No: 9193
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (19)
Votes (5)

 

The_Silent_Consensus

Con

On a practical level, we have heard people say that earmarks provide practical benefits not only to people in the area, but the entire country. After all, if one area benefits, the entire country benefits. A bit more analysis shows the flaws in that notion. Supposedly, all federal spending benefits the entire country from job creation, so even if the benefits are concentrate in one area, the whole country benefits from the jobs it creates. OK, if you want to argue that, then why not spend that money instead more efficiently. Earmarks are by definition inefficient. The fact that earmarks go around the authorization process suggests that they would not survive a cost-benefit analysis.

To do some more practical examples, why are we earmarking transportation dollars when we still have structurally deficient bridges to repair? Why are we earmarking health and human services dollars when we still have uninsured children? Why are we earmarking homeland security dollars when high-risk places such as nuclear and chemical plants remain unguarded? Why are we earmarking interior dollars when we are not prepared for forest fires? Why are we earmarking Defense dollars when we aren't even able to guarantee sufficient body armor for our troops? Why are we earmarking education dollars when we still have underperforming schools? I could go on and on and on. Some will respond that earmarks help representatives get funding for such projects, and some earmarks may go to that, but they are missing the bigger picture. We should spend money on these things, but they should be competitively bid based on merit. For example, let's say some earmarks are repairing structurally deficient bridges. Why is the money not being appropriated on a cost-benefit analysis? If the Congress wants to spend money to fix structurally deficient bridges and has the money for it, why isn't it competitively bid? It could make the decisions based on how structurally deficient a bridge is, how many people it serves, and so on. That would be spending money efficiently, as opposed to earmarking, which bypasses such process. The country would still benefit from jobs being created, and we'd get more bang for the buck.

Second, those who argue that earmarks are a net gain are forgetting that the federal government cannot give a single dollar to one area without taking it away from another. For example, if I take a dollar from Area 1 and invest it in Area 2, yes, the people in Area 2 now have one more dollar invested in their quality of life and it will likely help. However, the people in Area 1 now have one less dollar invested in their quality of life. Mathematically speaking, that amounts to zero. Actually, it amounts to less than zero for two reasons. One, some bureaucrats in D.C. are getting paid to process that dollar's trip though D.C. and two, spending decisions that would be made on the local level where the costs and benefits are both concentrated and therefore more likely to be spent wisely are now being decided on the federal level with costs being dispersed. Whenever the costs are dispersed while the benefits are concentrated, you're going to get less efficient expenditures. For example, let's say you could have a brand new Segway. You look at the price tag, and it's over $5,000 so you decide not to get it. But then you hear that everyone in the country will pay equally for it, and you get to own it. In other words, the benefits of it are concentrated to you, but the costs are dispersed among the entire country. You're now paying less than a penny for it, so of course you'll say, "Sure." What previously did not make sense for you to buy now makes sense because you're footing much less of the bill. The result is money spent less efficiently.

Along with the dispersing of costs, earmarking involves spending public money on political calculations. Earmarks have disproportionately benefited Congressmembers who have been in office a long time, that are on certain committees, what party they are in (typically 60-40 majority-minority), and if they have a tough reelection fight going on. Coincidence? I think not. Does anyone really think the federal government knows better on what a local area needs than a local government? Some say it's only 1% of the Federal budget, or about $18 billion, and that is true, but that's $18 billion we could be spending to repair structurally deficient bridges, get proper body armor for our troops, insure more children, prevent forest fires, help our underperforming schools, and properly secure more vulnerable terrorist targets.

This feeds right into the constitutional arguments. We elect our members of Congress to do many things, collecting earmarks is not one of them. Article I Section 8 allows Congress to tax and spend to provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States. The 10th Amendment says that powers not granted to the federal government nor prohibited to the states are reserved for the states and the people. The courts have ruled that general welfare expenditures are limited to matters of national welfare as opposed to state or local welfare. You can argue that many expenditures, such as overpaying for weapon systems and so on, do not help the national welfare either, so earmarks are not the only thing. Such is true, but in those other cases, the expenditures incidentally do not help the national welfare. The principle behind the spending is for matters of national welfare. Earmarks, in principle are not spending for the national welfare. Again, earmarks, by definition, escape the process of determining whether they are a national priority and are inserted into the bill regardless of their merit. To use the structurally deficient bridges example again, if Congress was to determine that structurally deficient bridges put the entire country at risk, which is true, and wanted to spend money to repair them, it could allocate the money based on those calculations I said earlier: how structurally deficient the bridge is, and how many people drive on it regularly. Or for homeland security, base it on the risk of the various targets and how many people an attack would likely hurt. That would be spending for the national welfare and within their constitutional role, but the second Congress spends money that it knows is not for the national welfare or common defense, it has overstepped its constitutional role.

Finally, the moral reasons. We hear the argument often that they are called representatives for a reason; they are there on behalf of their constituents so it follows that they try to bring back as much money as possible. Well, not exactly, we elect them to represent our views on national matters within their constitutional role. Collecting earmarks is not within their constitutional role. Congressmembers have every right to argue for why a project in their state should be funded, they have every right to justify it through the authorization process, and at the end of the day, Congress as a whole is supposed to vote to spend money for the national welfare. To use the bridge example again, congressmembers have every right to argue for funding repair of their bridge, and put it on the table, but Congress as a whole is supposed to decide which bridges get funding based on the national welfare, not based on any particular congressmember. Or homeland security grants, Congressmembers can put a place in their district on the table, argue for why its security should be funded, but out of those places put on the table, Congress should appropriate the funds based on which places are the riskiest. If skyscrapers and the Louisiana levees can only get funding because their congressmember has been in Congress for a while, something is seriously wrong with the system.
RoyLatham

Pro

1. Definition and Statement of the Resolution

Pro did not provide either a definition of earmarks or a resolution to a debate. The definition of earmarks is:

"In United States politics an earmark is a congressional provision that directs approved funds to be spent on specific projects or that directs specific exemptions from taxes or mandated fees. Earmarks do not create new government spending, but allocate existing spending for specific purposes." http://en.wikipedia.org...(politics)

I then suppose the debate resolution to be:

"Congress should not enact earmarks."

The alternative to earmarks is general appropriations in which the specific projects are unspecified. For example, under the resolution, it would be permissible to appropriate money to NASA, but not permissible to appropriate money for the specific project of building a space station on the moon. NASA must be left with the discretion as to which projects are funded.

2. Earmarks vs. the Authorization Process

The authorization process is the method by which money is appropriated to government agencies. The process is
authorization process is described in lugar.senate.gov/indianaspending/pdf/Overview.pdf. Pro asserts that the problem with earmarks is that they escape the cost benefit analysis of the authorization process. However, there is no cost-benefit analysis in the authorization process. Congress determines by its own means what levels of spending it thinks are appropriate for the various departments. The Secretaries outline to Congress how they propose to spend the money and attempt to justify why they need more money, but there is nothing like a formal cost-benefit analysis.

Under the resolution, a generic "stimulus plan" is acceptable. It authorized $700 billion for the Executive Branch to do good things. Later, the executive branch decides that, for example, $3.4 million ought to go building a tunnel for turtles to cross under a road. http://www.wcjb.com... The executive has also decided that twice as much should go to Obama supporters: "In 2008, 872 counties supported Obama during the election. Each received roughly $69 in stimulus per person. Of the 2,234 counties that voted for John McCain, the average was $34." (Note that is per capita.) I think it would be much better if the list of projects were specified and put to Congress for a vote. Then every Congressman would have to defend exactly how the money was spent.

Prior to Hurricane Katrina, a substantial amount of money was appropriated to Louisiana for improvements to their coast and waterways, with no specification of specific projects. Louisiana decided to spend too much money on port projects and too little on flood control. Not earmarking it was a mistake.

My point is that eliminating earmarks does not eliminate boondoggle projects, in fact it would facilitate the corrupt practices of wasting money to reward political friends and punish political enemies. It transfers that power from the legislative to the executive branch, which further isolates it from scrutiny.

3. Earmark Process Reform

The problem has been not that earmarks exist. It has been the corrupt process by which they are enacted. Earmarks were anonymously attached to unrelated legislation so that their sponsor could not easily be identified and held accountable. The were added at the last minute in committee and not subjected to review by the executive branch, hearings, or public comment. Some bipartisan reforms have been recently enacted that improves the process. http://appropriations.house.gov... The revised process requires executive branch review and mandates competitive bidding for the projects. Projects proposed by members must be posted on their websites, sponsorship must be disclosed, and there is a provision for early public scrutiny. There is cap of 1% of discretionary funds that can be spent of earmarks.

It remains to be seen whether or not these reforms will be sufficient. They are definitely headed in the right direction. If further reforms are needed, they should be enacted, rather than eliminating the authorization of specific projects. The Constitution gives the power of the purse to Congress. They should not cede more of that power to the executive branch.

4. Pro's Contentions

4.1 Pro makes two arguments for a ban on earmarks. One is that earmarks are not an effective way of creating jobs. I agree, but that applies equally as well to executive branch spending on boondoggle projects. The $3.4 million spent for the turtle tunnel in the non-earmarked stimulus bill is not going to create any more jobs or any fewer jobs that if the turtle tunnel were built under an earmark. Under the enacted earmark reforms, at least the public would have had a chance to comment before the money was spent.

4.2 Pro further argues that the Constitution does not allow spending for job creation. That too is irrelevant. If it is unconstitutional, then the it is just as unconstitutional if the money is appropriated indirectly by agency as if it is appropriated directly for projects. therefore, Pro has not established a valid reason for banning earmarks as a means of appropriation.

The resolution is negated.
Debate Round No. 1
The_Silent_Consensus

Con

Wikipedia is hardly the most reliable source. Earmarks can and do create new government spending, but that's not relevant. Regardless of whether they are, they are being spent less efficiently than if they went through the authorization process and had public hearings. I am arguing against the insertion of specific appropriations without public vetting or competition. I'm not arguing against specific appropriations per se, I'm arguing against specific appropriations without public vetting or competition. I'm arguing against spending federal dollars for local purposes. If it only benefits one area, that area should pay for it. Whenever you disperse costs but concentrate benefits, you are going to get less economical projects built. So with that in mind, a lot of what you are saying is irrelevant to my argument

Regarding Louisiana, the problem was two-fold: 1. Lack of sanity in spending by the recipients of the money. 2. Going back to what I just said, the levees in Louisiana would pass public vetting and competition with flying colors on a national level. If you are afraid of any public vetting and competition for your expenditures, you are admitting it doesn't have merit.

Regarding 4.1, if my logic is true in one place, and it happens to also be true in another, that doesn't prove an error in my logic. What you said about the executive branch is irrelevant for reasons I already stated

Regarding 4.2, Apart from what I said in 4.1, I was making the point that the Constitution allows government to tax and spend for the general welfare. That means the national welfare, not the welfare of any individual entity or area. The Supreme Court has agreed with this interpretation, they just made a mistake in deferring to Congress what constitutes the national welfare, which is like letting the accused decide whether he's guilty. Taxing and spending for the welfare of any individual state or area is reserved for that respective government
RoyLatham

Pro

Sorry I called Con "Pro" in the first round.

Con has still not offered a definition of "earmark" or a resolution. Wikipedia is not the best source for many things, but I didn't see anything controversial in their definition of earmarks. If Con wants a different definition, he should propose it. Other definitions seem to amount to the same thing:

A requirement that revenue be spent on a specific project or purpose, therefore intercepting the money before it is pooled with other revenue and appropriated as part of the General Fund. http://www.jwpcivitasinstitute.org...

set aside, designate for a special purpose (i.e. money) http://dictionary.babylon.com...

... federal budget expert Brian Riedl at the Heritage Foundation said an earmark is "anytime Congress specifies who will receive a government grant or contract, anytime they list an entity, specific recipient or location." http://www.washingtonpost.com... [

The definition from the Executive Branch: "An inclusion to a law by a member of Congress to specify funds for a particular purpose, bypassing executive branch merit-based or competitive allocation processes or otherwise limiting the ability of the executive branch to manage aspects of funds allocation." http://www.america.gov...

(Note that subsequent reform legislation has eliminated specific recipients.)

Con now says "I am arguing against the insertion of specific appropriations without public vetting or competition." I agree, and that is the current situation with respect to earmarks under the reforms already enacted. I gave the reference in the first round. So we are now in the situation where earmarks are vetted, yet the spending in the Stimulus Package, for example, which went through the authorization process, is not vetted.

Con also argues, "I'm arguing against spending federal dollars for local purposes. If it only benefits one area, that area should pay for it." That's a different debate. The turtle tunnel and most of the rest of the Stimulus Package is the spending of general taxes for local purposes, and it is being done without earmarks. If Con wanted to debate a subject other than earmarks, why did he title his debate "Congressional Earmarks"?

Con claimed "If you are afraid of any public vetting and competition for your expenditures, you are admitting it doesn't have merit." I assume by "you" he means the Congressional proponent of the spending. I agree, and I would have much preferred that the Stimulus spending projects were vetted, but that did not happen through the authorization process that Con claims to prefer.

4.1 Con says, "if my logic is true in one place, and it happens to also be true in another, that doesn't prove an error in my logic." Huh? Explain.

4.2 Con argues, "Taxing and spending for the welfare of any individual state or area is reserved for that respective government" It depends on whether the local spending relates to a national problem. Military bases are built in specific districts, for example, so spending for that base promotes the welfare of that local area. Spending on port facilities only benefits port cities directly, but it treats a national problem of interstate commerce. If there was a national problem with shrinking turtle populations, it's possible that a turtle tunnel might be justified as a matter of national concern ... although I doubt it. The point is that what affects "general welfare" must be determined on a case-by-case basis. There are many pork barrel projects that have nothing to do with national welfare, but that is unrelated to whether they are fed through earmarks or through the authorization process.

Con has given no references to support any of his contentions. I agree with Con's disapproval of unvetted pork barrel projects, but Con erred in equating that with earmarks. Under the reformed earmark process, earmark spending is more likely to be vetted than under the authorization process.
Debate Round No. 2
The_Silent_Consensus

Con

I made clear to you what I am and am not arguing against, and that's what this debate is about. Earmarks and pork-barrel spending are used interchangeably, and pork barrel spending is an expenditure that yields jobs or other benefits to a specific locale and patronage opportunities to its political representative. Congress's own definition of earmarks "funds that individual senators or representatives specify be directed to projects and activities that will benefit particular people, institutions or locations in their home constituencies."

These ethics reform bills you are talking about mean practically nothing. You think we can trust Congress to police itself? No matter what the new rules are, the lobbyists and the congressmen will always find a way to get around them -- especially when they are the ones left to do the policing! Earmarks are not always vetted, not even now. The stimulus spending did not go through the authorization process. It couldn't have. The bill was made up as it went along.

The local argument is absolutely relevant to this, given the definition of earmarks I gave above. It is the use of federal dollars for local purposes. Congress is supposed to, by the Constitution, be spending for federal purposes. If they are not even doing that then the problem is only worse than I am claiming it is. Individual members can propose spending in their districts, they can argue on behalf of their constituencies for why it suits the national interest to fund it, but Congress as a whole is supposed to spend money for the national interest.

Earmarking does bypass the authorization process and goes straight to the appropriations.

4.1 Put another way, if I said that companies that publish books no one likes go out of business due to lack of sales, that logic of going out of business due to lack of sales would also apply to companies that publish books people would like but never hear about. I make an argument for the first situation, and my logic also happens to be right in the second situation, no error in my logic is proven. I argued that earmarks are not effective expenditures (you interpreted what I was saying to mean bad at creating jobs) and should be eliminated for that. You said that executive branch boondoggles also are not effective expenditures, and I wouldn't dispute that. I'm not defending the turtle tunnel.

4.2 I would never imply otherwise. Every federal expenditure is going to be in some area, the question is whether the expenditure has a federal purpose. Military bases are one example of yes, the bridge to nowhere is an example of no. Protecting nuclear power plants from terrorism is an example of yes, even though the ones who primarily benefit are the ones who are closest to it. But such expenditures should be determined based on risk, not on whether the representative of the area sits on the right committee, is of the majority party, or has a tough reelection fight coming up. Earmarks are weighted in favor of all those final 3 things, and that's no coincidence, and certainly no way to spend public money

Simply not true that earmarks are more likely to get vetted than authorized expenditures. Quite the contrary, authorization is far more likely. Just look at what goes on right now
RoyLatham

Pro

There are two routes for Congress to authorize an expenditure. One is the authorization process, which provides money to the Executive Branch in general categories, typically the Cabinet departments. The Executive then decides how projects should be conceived and implemented. The other route is with earmarks, where Congress specifies many of the details of a specific project. I supported the definitions of the two routes with references.

Earmarks have traditionally had a number of defects. Congress would append them anonymously in secrecy, they were not vetted before the public, and sometimes the contractor to perform the work was also specified in the legislation. Those defects were corrected by bipartisan reform legislation enacted in March of this year. That leaves the question of whether Congress should ever use the earmark method to appropriate funds for a specific project, or whether the Executive Branch should always be left with full discretion as to how the money for a general purpose is parceled out in specific projects. If I understand Con correctly, and I'm not sure that I do, the earmark method should never be used, because the authorization process is likely to result in better vetting and better allocation of funds.

The Stimulus Bill provides a decisive counterexample to the superiority of the authorization process. the Stimulus Bill went through the authorization process; hearings were held and no specific projects were required. In ended up with the funding of ridiculous unvetted pork barrel projects like the $3.5 million tunnel for turtles to cross a road. Counties that supported Obama get twice the money, per capita, than counties that supported McCain. All it accomplished was moving Congressional malfeasance to Executive malfeasance.

Con argues that since the recent earmark reforms haven't been tested, they may turn out to be as ineffective as the authorization process is now. Con says, "These ethics reform bills you are talking about mean practically nothing. You think we can trust Congress to police itself? No matter what the new rules are, the lobbyists and the congressmen will always find a way to get around them ..." If what Con argues is true, then the authorization process has no advantage, because an unstoppably corrupt government would not obey authorization process constraints and more than earmark constraints. I don't believe that. I don't think we are relying upon Congress to police itself. If one Party violates the written rules, then the other Party will use it as a campaign issue. The voters ultimately do the policing.

(4.1, 4.2) Con brought up another issue, claiming that earmarks are directed at local spending that is unrelated to federal issues. Con might have pointed to West Virginia where every manmade object over three feet in diameter has Senator Harry Byrd's name on it, in honor of his bring home the pork. I agree with Con that money from the general tax base ought not to be used to fund purely local projects. However, the Stimulus Bill proved that such funding can be accomplished through the authorization process. Moreover, no simple rule will end that abuse. Consider, "The turtle tunnel is needed as part of the national effort to protect wildlife." Every road, school, park, and museum can be attributed to important national priorities on transportation, education, wildlife, and culture. The problem can only be solved by electing legislators with a different attitude. Banning earmarks would accomplish nothing.

I am in sympathy with Con's general critique of corrupt pork barrel projects, but he errs in supposing that they are tied to earmarks. The Stimulus Bill is ten times the size of the sum of all the earmarks, and more wasteful and corrupt. Reforming the earmark process is a good thing, and that has happened, but banishing earmarks would move power from Congress to the Executive Branch. That's the wrong direction for power to flow. We need to maintain checks and balances, and Congress should not cede the power of the purse.

The reformed earmark process should be maintained. It's better than transferring more power to the Executive. That's the Pro side of this debate.
Debate Round No. 3
19 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Mr_smith 7 years ago
Mr_smith
I don't think the system can function without earmarks (or pork barrel). Without the personal rewards of a new highway for his/her district, congressmen would never undertake any seriously important legislation. And when congressmen see themselves as delegates who represent people, of course they'll try to bring home goodies to their district. It's unavoidable.

Anyway, I think that Con got burned in this debate because he confused earmarks with pork, althought they are similar.
Posted by Xer 7 years ago
Xer
RFD:
B/A: CON/CON - I can't stand earmarks.
Conduct: TIED
S&G: TIED - I almost gave it to Pro for organization and Con made a few miniscule mistakes.
Arguments: PRO - Pro affirmed the resolution quite well. Con's arguments were a bit too rhetorical.
Sources: PRO - Clearly.
Posted by RoyLatham 7 years ago
RoyLatham
Silent, To put the debate on the track you want: write a clear resolution, define the key terms, and find references to support your main contention. If you made your own definition of earmarking in your opening argument, you wouldn't later be up against a bunch of dictionary definitions that differ. i thought the debate was worthwhile to provide a general understanding of what earmarking is and the issues involved.
Posted by The_Silent_Consensus 7 years ago
The_Silent_Consensus
authorizes*

And as I said before, I'm not arguing against Congress appropriating for specific projects, I'm just against doing it for local projects and without competitive bidding. That's what earmarking is
Posted by The_Silent_Consensus 7 years ago
The_Silent_Consensus
The authorization process does not cede to the executive branch. It authorized projects Congress can fund, and then appropriations is where it's supposed to make choices. Earmarks only go through appropriations
Posted by RoyLatham 7 years ago
RoyLatham
Sorry, I called Con "Pro." This is one of those !@#$%^&* backwards resolutions where the instigator should have affirmed, but didn't.
Posted by Sniperjake1994 7 years ago
Sniperjake1994
wtf? Ur point?
Posted by Narwal19 7 years ago
Narwal19
What's the resolution? and wgf.
Posted by Danielle 7 years ago
Danielle
Oh wait! I'm going on vacation so maybe I shouldn't :( Unless you wanna make it a pact to finish the debate by Saturday?
Posted by Danielle 7 years ago
Danielle
Ya know what, I'll take it regardless...
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Vote Placed by AtheniusPrime 7 years ago
AtheniusPrime
The_Silent_ConsensusRoyLathamTied
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Vote Placed by The_Silent_Consensus 7 years ago
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