I don’t mean to obsess about others’ obsessions with earmarks, but it is just weird how much attention this non-issue gets. Yes, I know that I am adding to the problem by talking about how much others are talking about the non-issue, but if there was ever an instance that showed how Washington has lost perspective and any sense of priorities it is the ongoing fascination with this minor, almost irrelevant part of the budgeting process. Worse than the fascination are the arguments against earmarks. Naturally, McCain has the most perfect non sequitur:
We are in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis; Americans are losing their jobs, their savings and their homes. We simply must rein in wasteful pork-barrel spending.
What does the one have to do with the other? There is no causal connection between the two, and to the extent that “wasteful pork-barrel spending” goes into a project that would otherwise not be funded the “wasteful pork-barrel spending” just might be employing someone who would otherwise be out of work or making less money in a different job. This person would then not be able to save as much, would probably have to use credit card debt to stay afloat until things improved and might have to borrow against the equity of his house, duplicating some of the very sort of behaviors that have helped bring so many to their current predicament. That doesn’t necessarily mean that funding these projects is the best or most effective use of the funds in question, and it is probably true in many cases that these projects are neither the best nor the most effective ways to use these funds, but of all the things to focus on at the present time it is hard to think of a more irrelevant target.
P.S. Incidentally, what does McCain have against astronomy? During the campaign, he complained about Obama getting funding for the planetarium here in Chicago, and now he complains about other astronomy funding in Hawaii. Maybe it’s a boondoggle, maybe not, but he rattles it off on his list of earmarks as if it were objectively silly to promote the study of astronomy. I consider myself to be a pretty strict constitutionalist, but if the Constitution authorizes copyright and patent protections to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” (Art. 1, Sec. 8) the funding of scientific endeavors is not that unreasonable. It is certainly pretty far down the list of things an opponent of earmarks should want to be mocking.
Update: Fortunately, in the same forum Ron Paul is making a lot more sense:
To fight earmarks is to fight for an even more powerful executive branch. It is popular these days to condemn earmarks in the name of fiscal conservatism. The truth is that they account for less than 2 percent of the spending bill just passed. And even if all earmarks were removed from the budget overall, no money would be saved. That money would instead go to the executive branch to spend as it sees fit. Congress has the power of the purse. It is the constitutional responsibility of members to earmark, or designate, where funds should go, rather than to simply deliver a lump sum to the president.