Who Cares About Earmarks?

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Such a pity, they'd make such a lovely couple.
Such a pity, they'd make such a lovely couple. Photo: Getty Images

Ah, earmarks. That takes us back. It was mere months ago that John McCain was incessantly railing against the evils of funding bear research or overhead projectors during his prime-time debates with Barack Obama. Now he's back at it (often on Twitter, obviously), called to action because of the nearly 9,000-plus earmarks, totaling an estimated $7.7 billion dollars, in the omnibus budget bill that Congress is now working on, and which Obama intends to sign. But McCain isn't alone. At least two Democratic senators have signaled their intention to vote against the bill on account of the earmarks, and the media is pestering Robert Gibbs for an explanation as to how Candidate Obama could promise to reform the earmark process while President Obama is making excuses as to why he won't do so with this bill. But although nobody is die-hard supportive of earmarks, opinion differs on whether they deserve the attention and outrage they're now receiving.

• Karl Rove says Obama promised "he'd reform the earmark culture and 'scour the federal budget, line by line, and make meaningful cuts.'" Despite his budget director's excuse that the omnibus bill is last year's business, "Obama could veto the legislation or push congressional Democrats to ditch the earmarks. But he has given little indication that he will do either." [WSJ]

• The Wall Street Journal editorial board claims that earmarks were even alive and well in the stimulus package, despite Obama's claims, but that "politicians have gotten much better at disguising their handiwork." [WSJ]

• The Newsday editorial board thinks that "if the charges of hypocrisy [against Obama] sting, they should." Still, though, "earmarks are not the unmitigated budget evil their ill repute would suggest. They allow lawmakers to finance some local priorities without having to wrestle with the long, cumbersome federal budgeting process." Plus, since they only account for 2 percent of this budget bill, earmarks "should be the least of our worries." [Newsday]

• Michael Grunwald contends that "despite all the Beltway hyperventilation, earmarks are not really a problem." The real problem is pork spending, in any form, whether it's an earmark or not. "The vast majority of wasteful federal spending — sprawl roads and bridges to nowhere, corporate welfare for agribusinesses and Big Oil and King Coal, bloated health care costs, and so on — is done within the regular appropriations process." Regardless, Obama "ought to be taking heat for punting — not only on the earmarks, but on the other $402 billion worth of government spending." [Time]

• Jonathan Chait isn't a fan of earmarks, but "if ever there was a time when we should not care about wasteful spending, it is now, when the economy has a massive failure of demand and anything that circulates money into the economy helps." Furthermore, McCain seems to "focus on programs that mention animals or food, or anythign [sic] that sounds silly. He's clearly not interested in learning whether any of the programs he targets have merit." [Plank/New Republic]

• Matthew Yglesias agrees that perhaps McCain should take more time to actually learn about the earmarks he's protesting to find out if they may be worthwhile. Some simple googling on that Mormon-crickets control he derides reveals that the pests are a real problem this year. [Think Progress]

• Michael Crowley admits that "pork-barrel spending gets blown out of proportion," but he wonders "why Congress can't suck it up and kick the habit for a while, simply in the name of rebuilding the public's near-zilch confidence in their institution." [Plank/New Republic]

• Jonathan Martin writes that the pressures on Obama surrounding the question of earmarks "are proving a good bit harder to reconcile in office than they were on the campaign trail." He "can either walk in lockstep with legislative leaders of his own party, people he needs to push his agenda," or "keep the good-government credentials that are part of his public image," but not both. [Politico]

• Mike Madden thinks that "in light of the massive problems the government is trying to deal with, it's hard for anyone except McCain to get that worked up over the earmark battle." And clearly, during the presidential campaign, "[v]oters evidently weren't sufficiently moved by McCain's anti-earmark outrage to put him in office." [Salon]