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John Thune's Earmark Conundrum

4:45 PM, Nov 11, 2010 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Well, I think we could but we’ve got so many things right now – what makes it difficult for me is we have authorized projects that are midstream in funding. And it depends entirely how you define “earmark.” But some people define earmarks to include authorized projects that are in the middle of the funding stream and we have a couple of water projects here in South Dakota that are halfway done. And we appropriate money for those every year and those are considered by the people who are really the purists on the earmark issue to be earmarks. So I can’t, there’s no way, with the commitments that I have made – a lot of these water projects I authorized as a member of the House – and so once you complete those things that are in the funding stream already, then I think you could get to a point where you could do away with them. Now, like I said at that deal – and I probably should have left it at that – I have voted for the moratorium. I do think that we ought to take a timeout and figure out how we’re going to deal with this issue.

The people who support earmarks, and there are quite a few of them on the Republican side too, who believe that not doing so enables the Obama administration to decide where the money goes and that the real focus ought to be the topline number. If earmarks actually reduced spending it would be one thing but they don’t – once the topline is set then everybody is kind of underneath that trying to figure out how to distribute money and some is done by congressional direction and some if done by formula and some is done through the administration. But it’s a complicated issue for that reason. Part of it comes down to how you define them and I do think that all these suggestions about projects having to be authorized, projects having to be passed – appropriated – through both Houses of Congress, that they not be dropped into any conference, all those are the sorts of things that I think are really important reforms. But I’m not convinced, I guess, at least at this point that the real issue isn’t the topline number. I think that’s where we’ve got to attack spending. You’ve got to hit it there. If you don’t attack the topline, then we’re not going to reduce spending overall anyway, we’re just going to change who decides how it’s spent – the administration versus Congress. So that’s an ongoing debate within our conference and the reason Republicans are conflicted about it, too, is that there are a lot of Republicans who don’t want to give up control to the Obama administration and allow them to decide how our money gets spent. I do think the bigger issue with earmarks, however, in my view, is not that it reduces spending but that there is a correlation between earmarks and corruption. And there are countless examples, unfortunately, in the past few years of people who were trading earmarks for political favors and that sort of thing and also using earmarks to buy votes from particular constituencies. That is the bigger issue to it and that’s why I supported the moratorium and I think we ought to completely stop it for a while and figure out what we’re going to do. It’s the DeMint Amendment, which we’ve voted on a number of times, but we haven’t been able to pass it. But if we could get things that are halfway done, done – then I’d be in a much better position to – 

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