Earmark this! They ain't gonna end, as Obama (and McCain) well know
Earmarks. Earmarks. Earmarks. (Tags on hogs' ears, see above, bring home the bacon, hence, pork. Get it?)
That's all we're hearing out of D.C. today because President Obama signed (without the campaign-promised five days of public exposure) an "imperfect" omnibus spending bill with billions of earmarked dollars because the government needs the dough and, technically, it was "last year's business." Just can't get rid of that Bush bogeyman. (See news video below.)
So, you see, the new administration isn't really responsible for a Congress that should have passed this spending measure back in September pre-Katie Couric when Gov. Sarah Palin was all fresh, clean and exciting and a certain Illinois Democratic senator and a certain Delaware Democratic senator and a certain Arizona Republican senator were spending their working days and millions of people's donations far from Capitol Hill.
To play along with these tirades briefly, here's The Ticket's earmark honor roll -- the Republican and Democratic senators who had no, nada, zippo earmarks among the billions secreted in the $410-billion spending measure: Democrats Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Republicans Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona.
Despite their denunciatory vocabulary, the media actually love earmarks; it allows us to play that evergreen classic, "Hypocrisy? I Supported It Before I Opposed It." And despite the ...
... budget deficit, there's always a hypocrisy surplus in government. A year ago Obama voted to ban earmarks from the 2009 budget he just signed with thousands of earmarks.
He also issued today a signing statement, qualifying some of the law he'd just signed, an action he criticized his predecessor for only 48 hours ago. Truth be told, most American families are chock full of hypocrisy too. But it's so much more fun and easier to see it in others than close to home.
Of the 35 senators voting no on the spending bill last night, 28 had secreted their own earmarks totaling some $240 million, knowing full well the measure was going to pass anyway. So they can spare the pig and have BBQ too.
In the House, Rep. Ron Paul, our favorite libertarian, has, as The Ticket noted earlier today, effectively developed a congressional reputation as Dr. No for, by golly, voting against spending bills, which simultaneously contain his personally-inserted earmarks for a certain Texas congressional district where he lives and has been elected 11 times. Guess why!
And you can pretty much count on hearing all these folks tout that local spending next time up on the local stump.
Last year, McCain promised to wield his veto pen in the Oval Office against such spending and to make earmarkers famous. McCain's got no veto pen, but at least he voted no. Under the Republican's rhetorical pressure, Obama promised: "When I'm president, I will go line by line to make sure that we are not spending unwisely." He musta spent much of the night reading all those lines by lines.
Obama was so singularly proud of his action today that he signed it in private, so no photos or video to illustrate the hypocrisy. Which Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explained by saying there was no public bill signing on the president's schedule. Think about that for a minute: It wasn't on the schedule because it wasn't on the schedule.
Obama's campaign freshness about creating a new Washington process is now a large part of his problem. He promised no lobbyists in his administration; he's got lobbyists in his administration. He promised no earmarks; after voting for none, he just approved more than 8,000 of them, including some inserted by his own chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.
The president deserves some credit for his realistic public stand that he does not oppose all earmarks. Nuanced positions are impossible to explain in the yes-or-no, black-and-white world of TV. As an ex-legislator with an ex-legislator chief of staff, Obama knows full well that his plans for changing the congressional legislative process from the White House are what comes out the other end of livestock.
As ABC's David Chalian notes, earmarks have grown exponentially, from 1,300 in 1994 to 8,500 today, costing taxpayers $7.7 billion. Defenders defensively point out that's "only" 1 or 2 percent of the total bill. So? To 99.89% of Americans, $7.7 billion is a manure-load of money.
Obama knows earmarks are not going away per se. Increased transparency may make it more difficult for legislators to reward hometown donors with secreted federal help. But here's how our quill-written democracy deal works: These congresspersons are not elected to represent the United States or the White House.
They are elected to represent Dinksville and Smokum and Cheesetown. And if these members don't think small and somehow demonstrate to voters back home every 24 months that they're regularly repatriating some of those onerous, about-to-increase-but-hopefully-on-somebody-else federal taxes, those members will soon become highly paid lobbyists in Washington, helping steer future earmarks through this hallowed hypocritical process.
-- Andrew Malcolm
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Photo: Michael Conroy / Associated Press (a hog wearing an actual earmark).