Saturday, March 14, 2009

Earmarks anyone?

The Washington Post asked several Congress people and analysts about earmarks. Consider this vigorous defense by one lefty Representative:
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.

Earmarks actually provide a level of transparency and accountability to federal spending. Consider the $350 billion that was recently given to the Treasury Department for the Troubled Assets Relief Program. The Treasury has not been forthcoming about where much of that ended up. If every bit of it had been earmarked, at least we would know something about how it was spent.
You would expect this sort of defense from someone who sponsored or co-sponsored a total of $75 million in earmarks in the recent omnibus spending bill (this put the 9th highest total among representatives; see In a delightfully hypocritcal twist though, this same Representative voted against the bill.

At Slate, Timothy Noah points out that 6 of the 10 largest earmark hauls in the Senate also went to Republicans.