May 28, 2008 | Commentary on Energy and Environment

Conservatives Concern with Earmarks, Iraq and Immigration

Earmark Reform

Earmark Reform is a big issue for conservatives, because the American people want to see members of Congress weed out waste, fraud and abuse from the federal budget. Most earmarks are special-interest pork projects for a specific state or congressional district. On March 13, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) offered an amendment to create "a 1-year moratorium on all earmarks by establishing a 67-vote point of order against bills with earmarks." Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain were co-sponsors. It failed, with only 29 senators voting yea.

In November 2007, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) spoke to the Senate about the pervasive problem of earmarks: "The earmark system exists to serve politicians, not local communities. Members earmark funds rather than advocate for grants because they want the political credit for spending money. Earmarks oftentimes are worthwhile, but the system under which they are propagated is not. Earmarks are the gateway drug to overspending, one of the No. 1 issues for which the American people have a problem with Congress. Our problem is, we refuse to make the tough choices families have to make every day, every week within their own budgets." Conservatives should note that Obama and McCain are on the record voting in favor of stopping Congress from earmarking special-interest projects.

The ultimate goal would be to stop the growth of congressional spending and engage in true earmark reform. According to Brian Riedl of The Heritage Foundation, Congress has funded the following earmarks: $3.7 million for the Formosan Subterranean Termite House and $150,000 for Rodent Control on the Aleutian Islands. And conservatives remember the now infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska as the poster child of federal monies going to special-interest projects. Congress needs to take the (relatively) small step of stopping wasteful congressional earmarks, if only to prove they have the will to tackle serious entitlement reform with no tax increases.

Iraq

Unlike Congress, our troops in Iraq are working hard this week, as they do every week. Together with our coalition partners, American troops have made great strides in Iraq by allowing Iraqi Security Forces to take the lead in operations which have brought measurable calm to Basra. Also, the Iraqi government has made important political accomplishments and reforms, including a pension law, De-Ba'athification reform, and a government operating under a budget. While Iraq's young constitutional democracy seeks to defeat international terrorists and insurgents supported by Iran, it needs continued American military support to do so.

Last September the U.S. Senate rejected an amendment that would have prohibited American forces from engaging in combat operations in Iraq except under certain circumstances. If that amendment had passed, American troops would have been halting successful activities just as Gen. David Petraeus was announcing a reduction in attacks last December. The passage of this amendment may have prevented American forces from providing necessary aid to Iraqis to the degree they did in Basra.

Not surprisingly, McCain and Obama parted ways on this issue. McCain's vote against the resolution was consistent with his long-standing support for winning the war in Iraq. But Obama voted to handicap the Iraqis just as they are starting to stand on their own two feet.

Immigration

Last year's debate on so-called "comprehensive immigration reform" was widely rejected by the American people as an amnesty bill that could cost the taxpayers trillions in new entitlement spending. One shocking vote during the debate was on an amendment by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) to "establish a permanent bar for gang members, terrorists and other criminals."

Cornyn's amendment failed, 46-51, with Obama and McCain opposing it. Cornyn expressed concern about the vote: "I believe this amendment and the vote on this amendment is a defining issue for those who seek the highest office in the land, for them to demonstrate their respect for the rule of law and to demonstrate their desire to return law and order to our immigration system." The amendment has specific bars for members of gangs and terrorists and would arguably be an easy vote for those running for our nation's highest office. Yet Obama and McCain voted against this common-sense amendment. Conservatives want to stop the expansion of the welfare state and prevent violent criminals from being granted preferred immigration status. What do Obama and McCain want?

Brian Darling is director of US Senate relations and congressional analyst at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Brian Darling Senior Fellow for Government Studies
Government Studies

First appeared in Human Events