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Enough With The Earmark Fixation

Faced with a party that is preoccupied with symbolism and obsessed with fighting earmarks, Patrick Ruffini proposes [1] the embrace of a GOP-backed earmark ban as a symbol of Republican seriousness. By itself, this would not be all that remarkable. Raging against earmarks is just about the only thing Republicans know how to do these days, so I suppose it makes sense to stick to what you know, but what is worse is that Ruffini is justifying this as an obvious political winner. This is just not true.

Not only do most people not know or care about earmarks in general, they are often quite fond of earmarks that go to their districts. Ron Paul sometimes gets in trouble with pundits who like to point out that he requests earmarks for his district as part of his role as their representative, but in many of those cases it is hard to see why, for example, shoring up a sea wall in Galveston, which is an area vulnerable to storm surge during hurricane season, is such a terrible or wasteful thing. Indeed, even if you are a strict constructionist, it is not so far out to think that the federal government might even have some proper role in providing for coastal defenses against natural disasters. It is also difficult to understand why representatives should not do what they can to get their constituents a share of the money that the government has taken from them. This is probably the only time members of Congress do anything remotely close to serving the interests of their constituents, and it has become the object of Republican ridicule and scorn for several years now. The problem is not that Republicans in Congress say one thing and do another, although that hardly helps, but that they think the problem is their continued use of earmarking and not their inane rhetoric about eliminating earmarks.

Not only is an anti-earmark crusade irrelevant electorally, but it could actually be directly harmful to House members when they are facing re-election. As has been pointed out elsewhere, a minority party has nothing much to show for itself at election-time if its members cannot at least bring home some bacon. If the GOP cannot soften the blow of their general fascination with austerity economics by pointing to projects they are bringing to their districts, some of their members are going to be in real danger of being voted out. If the DCCC recruits as smartly and effectively as they have in past cycles, promoting fiscally conservative Blue Dog candidates against pro-austerity incumbents, there are seats that the GOP thinks are safe that may not prove to be.

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2 Comments To "Enough With The Earmark Fixation"

#1 Comment By ottovbvs On March 13, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

Daniel, why are you so sensible. The earmark obsession which the press seem content to echo is totally irrelevant, makes the GOP look totally hypocritical, and as you point out could actually be harmful to some sitting GOP members. The earmarks in this bill depending on whose counting you were going with were somewhere between 1% and 3% of the total…so lets settle for splitting the difference at around $6billion. No doubt there are some iffy ones in there but is it really a leap of the imagination to recognize the in Iowa where they have more hogs than people, that pig poop might be a bit of a problem. Then we have legions of Republican senators/representatives complaining about the bill as it is revealed they personally have millions of dollars of earmarks in the bill. If earmarks are largely shut down in the next budget the big losers will be the Republicans who are not going to be able to point to anything they brought home from congress. But as ever the GOP these days can’t see beyond its nose.

#2 Comment By jkratz On March 13, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

The thing that bothers me about the anti-earmark crusades is the fact that when these clowns come out to the media to take up the great cause they give the smallest hint possible as to what the earmark is for. This happens every time McCain gets out there on his high horse. He loves to scowl and sigh while reciting short snippets of the earmark description. I’m sure many of them are wasteful spending. I’m also sure that many of them, as you point out, are not.

There was an article on Yahoo News several days ago about the latest Omnibus spending bill and the earmarks it contained. The authors of the article thought it relevant to mention those earmarks in the bill that were put in place by members of Obama’s administration…when they were still Senators. I’m still not sure of the relevance of those facts but I digress. One of the examples mentioned in the article was about $200,000 to help build a children’s museum in Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware. God forbid tax money should be used to help educate children! And even worse it was the Vice President when he was a Senator!

I really wish the news media weren’t so driven by short attention spans and short segments where only snippets of information, that can not possibly explain a situation thoroughly enough, are provided to the general public. It does nothing for our national discourse. It reminds me of the complaints by the talking heads on the various “news” networks that Obama would give answers that were too long during the debates. Yeah…it truly is a shame when a presidential candidate tries to explain something with some depth to the answer.