Toomey Co-Sponsors Earmark Ban

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A temporary ban on Congressional earmarks could become an enduring law of the land under a bill amendment sponsored by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

The two proposed the measure as an amendment to the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, also known as the STOCK Act.

“In the absence of our amendment, many of our colleagues will likely resume a very wasteful, non-transparent process which is prone to corruption and abuse,” Mr. Toomey said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “Earmarks exist precisely to circumvent any real scrutiny, transparency or any process by which this body, our other body or our American people can evaluate the merits.”

While lawmakers banned earmarks for this term, Mr. Toomey said the last Congress spent $36 billion on them.

The Toomey-McCaskill amendment wouldn’t entirely outlaw them but would effectively require a super-majority to approve them. Under their amendment, if a single senator objects to an earmark it would be surgically excised unless two-thirds of the Senate votes to leave it in the bill.

Supporters of earmarks say individual lawmakers best know the needs of their own districts and that earmarks respond to local community needs that federal bureaucrats ignore.

Ms. McCaskill, though, says earmarks siphon funds from competitively awarded programs that prioritize project proposals by need and worthiness. Earmark distribution, meanwhile, “is really going in the back room and sprinkling fairy dust. It really is a process that has more to do with how you are and who you know than merit,” she said.

“States are supposed to get what they need, not get the benevolence of Washington because they happen to have somebody who’s been here long enough to be on the right committee to have the right chairmanship or have the right rank in committee,” she said. “That’s not the right way to spend public money.”

Mr. Toomey said earmarks lend themselves to corruption, waste and abuse.

“This is not to suggest that every earmark that’s ever occurred had no merit. That’s not what this is about,” he said. “What we’re criticizing here and what we’re trying to change is a very, very badly flawed process that permits a great deal of projects that have no merit to get funded,” he said. “Those that do have merit — and goodness knows there are all kinds of projects, especially transportation projects, — that ought to be funded, but they ought to be funded in a in a transparent and honest way.”

The STOCK Act would prohibit federal lawmakers from making stock trades based on insider information they acquire through their roles in Congress. A vote on the bill could occur this week.

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