SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Setting the Record Straight on Earmarks
By Senator Ted Stevens


February 18, 2008
Monday AM

On January 4, a fire broke out at a residence in Salcha. Thanks to specialized "Project Code Red" equipment and training, first responders extinguished the fire, saved the home, and prevented injuries. Salcha Fire Chief Rob Weathers recently wrote me about the fire and said, "Without Project Code Red a family would have lost their home and business that night."

In villages without fire trucks or hydrants, like Salcha, Project Code Red provides first responders the necessary tools to fight fires and save lives. Many Alaskans, particularly survivors of the horrific fires in Hooper Bay, know first-hand this program's significance. What's lesser known is Project Code Red was made possible through a Congressional spending priority, commonly called an earmark.

Throughout the nation, the debate over federal spending has intensified. A consequence of this hyper-political environment has been negative publicity for congressional earmarks. In his State of the Union address, President Bush stressed the need for earmark reform and greater accountability. This suggestion is an inevitable development in light of the public scrutiny on earmarks. Increased transparency in the congressional earmark process, matched with heightened oversight by federal agencies, has been demanded across the nation. My colleagues and I welcome the President's suggestions and will ensure a more open appropriations process.

However, numerous lawmakers, administration officials, and watchdog groups claim earmarks, including funds appropriated to purchase foam canisters to fight fires in Salcha, represent wasteful spending that increases our federal deficit. These declarations are embarrassingly myopic. Only one percent of federal spending is earmarked annually, which does not increase the federal budget. When I direct federal dollars to programs like Project Code Red, my earmark sets aside money already budgeted. And, without the earmark, that money would be spent by federal agencies in the major population centers of our country rather than in Alaska.

Diminishing and demonizing Congress' role in allocating taxpayer dollars is contrary to the Constitution and not in the best interest of our state and nation. Eliminating congressional earmarks, as some have suggested, would disrupt the Constitutional balance between the legislative and executive branches. The Founding Fathers gave control of expenditures from the Treasury to Congress because they wanted budgetary decision-makers to be directly accountable to the people. Banning congressional earmarks would allow unelected federal agency officials to decide how and where federal money is spent in all 50 states.

Congressional involvement in this process is essential. Congress often provides funding for projects and programs that the Administration had not anticipated in its budget request. Our Delegation, just three of the 535 members of Congress, reviews the Executive budget each year to make certain it reflects the needs of Alaskans. Based on requests of Alaskans, and in some cases, military officials, we direct small amounts of the budget to be spent on Alaska projects and programs, guaranteeing federal funding goes where it is needed most. These programs, like Project Code Red, have a very real impact on the lives of all Alaskans.

Debate will continue over the methods Congress uses to appropriate federal funds. Certainly, improvements can be made in the congressional earmark process - but banning them entirely would deny small states funds for important federal programs. As long as I represent Alaska, I will try to ensure Alaskans have the same rights as Americans in other states, such as basic transportation infrastructure, clean drinking water, affordable energy, and essential education programs. These spending priorities hardly constitute "government waste."

Received February 14, 2008 - Published February 18, 2008


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