Sen. Tom Coburn has called on Congress not to cave in to pressure to lift the bipartisan ban on earmarks or risk a return of "pork-barrel politics."
In an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal
, the Oklahoma Republican said the moratorium was instituted in 2011 after the scandal surrounding the $223 million earmarked for the Alaskan "Bridge to Nowhere."
The Gravina Island Bridge project became a symbol of earmark spending at its worst, and eventually the pork was pulled. But now Coburn says that would-be "porkers" are back in force from both sides of the floor.
He noted that House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky has called the ban a "bad idea," while Mississippi GOP Sen. Thad Cochran and that state’s Republican House candidate Gene Taylor are running platforms in their midterm campaign races to bring back earmarks.
Coburn also pointed out that Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, has called the ban "a fringe, right-wing idea that has led to gridlock."
Durbin was also quoted by Coburn as saying, "It was a tea party reform. They came in and eliminated it, and what they did is take the glue out of a federal transportation bill. That was the glue that held everybody together."
Calling it the "gateway drug" to Washington’s spending addiction, Coburn said, "The porkers' core argument — that Congress needs earmarks to pass good bills that wouldn't pass otherwise — is ludicrous. Pork crowds out higher priority needs.
He wrote that the Transportation Department's Inspector General told Congress in 2007 that earmarks meant members' "pet projects" were funded ahead of more important issues, such as repairing structurally deficient bridges, "which now number 63,000 or 10 percent of our nation's bridges."
In his guest column, Coburn continued, "There is a higher chance the bridge you cross today on your way to work could collapse thanks in part to Congress's legacy of perverse priorities. Rather than passing good bills, politicians with pork on their minds most often pass bills that aren't ready for prime time."
Coburn said congressional research showed that the number of earmarks quadrupled to nearly 16,000 in 2006 from more than 4,000 in 1994, with federal spending soaring to $2.66 trillion in 2006 from $1.46 trillion in 1994.
After the earmark ban was enacted, spending actually went down to $3.45 trillion in 2013 from $3.46 trillion in 2010, Coburn says.
The senator added, "Congress isn't functioning properly, and the answer isn't new pork, but new politicians. There is no spending or policy challenge we face that can't be solved by electing principled people … and by elevating leaders who know how to compromise without paying someone off.
"If members have to be bribed into doing the right thing — and pork is more of a 'glue' than, say, our oath to the Constitution — we are in very deep trouble indeed."
The 66-year-old Coburn recently revealed that he has cancer
and is stepping down in November, two years before he completes his second term.
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