Rep. Jeff Flake: Kill Earmarks

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


Kill earmarks! So said Arizona Republican Jeff Flake in an op-ed on Friday in the Washington Post. Flake, a fiscal conservative with a sterling no-earmark record, has been floated as a possible addition to the House Appropriations Committee. For a rising star like Flake—and with earmark reform the meme of the moment for congressional Republicans—it was only a matter of time ’til he weighed in on the debate.

Critics of earmark reform rally around the fact that they constitute a paltry 2 percent of government spending. But as earmarks have spiked in number and expense over the past two decades, Flake says, the commensurate quality of congressional oversight by the House Appropriations Committee has slipped precipitously. The result: Congress has given up its oversight of the remaining 98 percent.

Flake attacks Sen. Mitch McConnell’s contention that an earmark ban cedes spending power to the president. (Despite initial resistance, McConnell endorsed Sen. Jim Demint’s proposed earmark moratorium Monday afternoon.) Giving up earmarks doesn’t hand power to the White House, he argues. Instead, it’s Congress’ reliance on earmarks that has led lawmakers to turn a blind eye to the executive branch’s spending excesses.

“It is as if Congress has called a truce with the executive branch: don’t hassle us about our 2 percent,” he writes, “and we’ll offer only token interference with your 98 percent. Such a poor trade has not been made since the days of Esau.” Flake’s suggestion is that, in Washington, both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue excel at the practice of gluttonous spending. One end feeds and, in fact, enables the other.

Public revulsion to wasteful projects, he argues, is reason enough to invoke a ban. The “most compelling reason,” he says, is that it will balance the relationship between Congress and the executive branch.

“Without the earmark distraction,” he argues, “Congress can return to the deliberative process of authorization, appropriation, and oversight, thus reining in spending abuses of the administration rather than simply piling on with spending abuses of our own.”

Ranking member Jerry Lewis certainly seems convinced of Flake’s fiscal bonafides: the California Republican has endorsed Flake in his bid to be named to the committee. Lewis is term-limited from being named chairman, and is seeking a waiver. He’s also a notorious porker. Some see his support for Flake as an attempt to win over Republicans skeptical of his record on earmarks.

There’s no telling how realistic Flake’s orthodox vision truly is. But thanks to the DeMint’s proposed moratorium, the tea party freshmen, and longtime earmark critics like Flake, the push for earmark austerity is getting a major shot in the arm. 

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.