The Pork Battle continued today, pitting a porkbusting Senator against a porker from the House. James Clyburn tried schooling Jim DeMint on the Constitutional “mandate” for pork, but DeMint smacks him down by forcing Clyburn to keep reading:
If you’re unfamiliar with the areas of the Constitution under discussion, start here and keep scrolling. Clyburn makes the same mistake Harry Reid made earlier in this debate in blurring the line between appropriations and earmarks. The Constitution assigns the responsibility to Congress for the former, but requires appropriations to be written as law, which earmarks largely do not do. At the time, Congress did not envision the growth of agencies as adjuncts of government sharing executive and legislative power, and so they did not address the idea of demanding specific authorizations for non-federal efforts.
Or did they? As Senator Tom Coburn pointed out, they certainly foresaw the mischief of pork:
Even though he firmly believed that the power of appropriating federal money belonged only to Congress and that it was necessary to have a clear delineation of authority between the executive and legislative branches of government, Thomas Jefferson also fervently argued against the use of federal funding for local projects. For example, in a 1796 letter to James Madison regarding federally funded local projects, Jefferson wrote, “[O]ther revenues will soon be called into their aid, and it will be the source of eternal scramble among the members, who can get the most money wasted in their State; and they will always get the most who are the meanest.” Anyone who has observed the recent tantrums of those who have had their pork challenged knows that Jefferson’s statement was sadly prophetic.
Jefferson was not alone in his worry about the corrupting influence of money and political power. In a 1792 letter to Alexander Hamilton conveying what he believed to be the public’s perceptions of government, George Washington cited worries about the “increase in the mass of the debt,” which had “furnished effectual means of corrupting such a portion of the legislature, as turns the balance between the honest voters[.]” Hamilton, who famously clashed with Jefferson and Madison on fiscal matters, responded that “[e]very session the question whether the annual [funding] provision should be continued, would be an occasion of pernicious caballing and corrupt bargaining [emphasis mine].”
Wow. That certainly describes the pork process to a T, doesn’t it? Clearly, the founders did not see earmarking as a mandate, but as an evil that should be avoided to keep the appropriations process from corruption.
The founders saw this wisdom. Too bad many of our current crop of politicians don’t see it. And shame on Rep. Clyburn for arguing that the same people who wrote and implemented this Constitution meant it as a mandate for politicians to feather their nests.