The Ethics of Earmarks
Political Advocacy Tracker is a roundup of what Christian activist organizations have been talking about over the past week.
President Obama used his radio address last Saturday to take a stand against earmarks, specific projects written into legislation, what many critics would call "pork."
"I agree with those Republican and Democratic members of Congress who've recently said that in these challenging days, we can't afford what are called earmarks," Obama said. "[Earmarks] represent a relatively small part of overall federal spending. But when it comes to signaling our commitment to fiscal responsibility, addressing them would have an important impact."
This position was a revision of his earlier views on earmarks. Prior to this radio address, Obama had not called for a ban on all earmarks. Instead he advocated for tighter restrictions on the practice and greater transparency.
"Earmarks are not illegal," said Colson. "But to use a political office to get tax dollars for your district in order to win political favor is clearly unethical. And getting them by circumventing the budget and appropriations process is grossly unethical.Yet it has been going on for years, and it is scandalous."
Family Research Council's (FRC) Tony Perkins said that while banning earmarks would affect little of the federal budget, "it's a good start."
Some have questioned the utility of banning earmarks because they make up a small percentage of the federal budget. In fact, one of the strongest proponents of earmarks was Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who reversed his own position this week. Just a couple of weeks ago, McConnell said that eliminating all earmarks would have no effect on the budget and would give the President "a legislative blank check." McConnell's new stand was viewed by many as a win for new conservatives in Congress.
Perkins said, "The commitment to cut spending is significant one. It signals a new level of respect for conservatives in Congress, who have worked for years to be taken seriously on this issue."
American Family Association's (AFA) Bryan Fischer also saw the earmark ban, and McConnell's support for it, as a victory for conservatives.
"What this represents is a huge, tremendous, landmark victory for you and me. This is a victory of the citizen class over the ruling class. Mitch McConnell—a classic ruling class, big tent, country club, blue blood Republican, determined to protect this corrupt practice of earmarking. The tea party folks, the citizen class, you and me, we got to Senator Mitch McConnell," said Fischer.
Sojourners president Jim Wallis said both the federal debt and how we reduce it are moral issues.
"Our personal and national relationship to debt is indeed a moral issue. Leaving our children to pay the bills for excessive spending cannot be justified. But, if a budget really is a moral document, how we reduce the deficit is also a moral issue," said Wallis.
Wallis said that the nation should balance the budget by cutting military spending, reinstating Clinton-era tax rates for wealthy Americans, and eliminating farm subsidies. He said enacting these three changes would both lower the deficit and "reduce extreme poverty."
Odds & Ends
• A key unresolved issue is the fate of the military's ban on homosexuality. Before the election, the Senate failed to pass a repeal of the current "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy (which was included as part of a larger defense spending bill). Some Democratic Senators are urging a reconsideration of the issue before the end of session. Doug Carlson of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said, "For an issue that should be dead and buried … 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal attempts are alive and well. No one should believe otherwise."