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An Open Letter to the United States Senate: Support Senators Coburn and McCain by Subjecting Earmarks to Greater Scrutiny

January 27, 2006

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the more than 350,000 members of the National Taxpayers Union, I write to strongly commend the pledges of Senators Tom Coburn and John McCain to challenge the long-abused practice of legislative earmarking by demanding votes on earmarks embedded in appropriations bills. NTU enthusiastically supports their work toward a budget process that better serves taxpayers, and will actively assist any lawmaker's effort to do the same.

As you know, earmarks are a major flaw with the annual appropriations cycle. In a practice that has become increasingly commonplace, earmarked funding is being tucked away in conference or committee report language for inherently political or wasteful purposes that do little good for the American people. Last year Congress provided for pork-barrel projects costing $17 billion after receiving 34,687 lawmaker requests. With the deficit expected to reach $337 billion this year and federal spending growing at a rapid clip, the Senate's already-threadbare excuses for looking the other way while earmarking continues are now simply intolerable.

In the wake of recent spending and lobbying scandals taxpayers are clamoring for improvements to the way federal appropriating procedures work (and often fail to work). Earmarking reform presents a golden opportunity for progress. Regardless of current events, it makes simple common sense to ask Members of Congress who want special spending projects in their states to explain to taxpayers on the Senate floor why such items should be funded from the nation's finances. Holding each earmark to the scrutiny of debate and voting will go a long way toward stopping unjustifiable earmarks from being peddled in the first place, while requiring a stronger defense of those earmarks that lawmakers would continue to pursue. Similarly, the ongoing violation of Senate rules against slipping completely new provisions into conference reports should be halted at once.

For too long the pressure to "go along to get along" has foiled attempts to reform earmarking, and we applaud the courage Senators McCain and Coburn have demonstrated in standing up to the ingrained reliance on backroom appropriating. Please demonstrate your commitment to America's taxpayers by joining your colleagues in demanding an open and honest discussion of our nation's spending priorities.

John Berthoud