We are once again in the annual season of the federal government passing its spending bills. Congress funds the discretionary spending of the United States through 12 annual appropriations bills. These 12 bills make up approximately one-third of annual spending, the other two-thirds being mandatory spending - mostly Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security.
Ten of these 12 spending bills contain congressionally directed spending on local projects, commonly referred to as earmarks. While opponents of earmarks would have the public believe they are all equal in merit to the infamous Bridge to Nowhere, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of earmarks fund projects for the military, local governments, universities and school districts, hospitals, roads and bridges and other items in the public interest.
In South Carolina, all six of our representatives and Sen. Lindsey Graham request funding for at least some projects for their districts or the state. Sen. Jim DeMint is one of a handful of senators who do not request projects for his constituents because of his philosophical opposition to earmarks. While the philosophy may be laudable on its face, the reality is that Sen. DeMint is giving South Carolina's allotment of earmark spending to other states - one more way our state loses.
Under the 1974 Budget Act, Congress passes a budget each year prior to considering any appropriations bills. Section 302a set overall discretionary spending levels in each of the 12 appropriations bills. After these spending amounts are set, the appropriations deliberations begin. This is important, because it means that refusing to request or secure earmarks for one's constituents does not save a penny of taxpayer dollars.
In each of the 10 appropriations bills that contain earmarks, appropriations subcommittee chairs reserve a pre-determined amount of funds in a pre-determined list of accounts to fund local projects. Traditionally, Senate funds are separate from House funds, and majority-party members receive 60 percent of the funding and minority party members 40 percent. So, for example, Congressman Clyburn's projects are funded from the House majority party funding in each account, and Sen. Graham competes for funding from each of the Senate minority party accounts. If a member does not request funding for his or her constituents, it leaves more funding for the members who do.
Sen. DeMint cedes his funding allotments to other states by not requesting projects on behalf of South Carolinians. Like Sen. DeMint, Sen. Graham regularly supports measures to restrict earmarks. However, he works vigorously to secure funding for South Carolina because he understands the present reality: If we don't get it, it goes to other states. In fact, he also has to fight headwinds created by Sen. DeMint's frequent attacks on fellow Republicans on the Appropriations Committee.
Against these headwinds, Se. Graham has secured approximately $34 million for South Carolina in the FY 2010 appropriations bills, as they stand today. This is money that would go to other states, not come to South Carolina, if Sen. Graham did not work for it. In contrast, Sen. DeMint refuses to work for S.C. projects, leaving his allotment for other states to divide up. This is the third year he has done this, not to mention millions of additional lost dollars from his refusal to work for local project funding in water and transportation bills.
We have enough problems in South Carolina. We need Sen. DeMint to stand up for our state under the system that is in place rather than ducking his responsibilities under the dubious rationale of changing the system and the false guise of saving taxpayers money. South Carolina cannot afford to keep funding other states' needs.
Mr. Sellers, who represents Bamberg, Barnwell and Orangeburg counties in the S.C. House, is first vice chair of the state Democratic Party and an associate at the Strom Law Firm in Columbia.