Published October 2008 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd “EARMARKS” IS NOT A DIRTY WORD In recent weeks, there has been an increased focus on the issue of Congress earmarking funds for specific projects. Some Members of Congress and even one of the presidential candidates have asserted that all "earmarked" funding is wasteful spending or an abuse of power which should be ended.
Congress has the power of the purse. That is stipulated in the Constitution. Since the beginning of our Republic, Congress has allocated money for specific projects and purposes. For example, in 1798, $3,500 was appropriated for firewood and candles for the Treasury Department, and $454.41 was appropriated for rent at a house, "near Gray's Ferry on the Schuykill."
An earmark is an explicit direction from the Congress about how the Federal Government should spend the people's money. Yet earmarks are arguably the most criticized and the least understood of Congressional practices. Accounting for less than 1% of the federal budget, there is nothing inherently wrong with an earmark. It is absolutely consistent with the Framers intentions, codified in Article I of the Constitution, giving the power of the purse to the representatives of the people.
Well intentioned though they may be, the civil servants making budget decisions in the Executive agencies of the Federal Government do not understand the communities that Members of Congress represent. They do not meet with the constituencies. Bureaucrats can be poor judges of what is necessary and what is frivolous from the perspective of the states and the people. These bureaucrats are not elected and therefore are not directly accountable to the people.
Earmarks serve an important purpose. They are the safety net for situations when formula funding fails or when extraordinary circumstances exist. Recently, I was in Putnam County to dedicate the opening of 2.1 miles of upgrades to U.S. Route 35. This new highway was the result of my efforts to secure dedicated funding, or earmarks, to move this project forward. We all know that it has never been easy to secure federal funds for the building of highways in West Virginia. Our beautiful mountains that we love so much also make it costly-up to $25 million per mile --to build modem highways. Time and again, I have had to fight the Bush Administration and its supporters in the Congress to ensure that West Virginia is not left out when it comes to safer roads and bridges.
And you can bet that I will continue to push hard in the U.S. Senate, and use my experience, and earmarks, when necessary, to build for the future of the people of the great State of West Virginia.
October 15, 2008