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November 09, 2010

And Here We Go: McConnell Working Quietly To Line Up Opposition to Earmark Ban

At Hot Air: reports of the death of business as usual has been greatly overstated.

While McConnell is not demanding that rank-and-file Republican senators vote against the earmark ban, he’s laying out his concerns that eliminating earmarks would effectively cede Congress’ spending authority to the White House while not making a real dent in the $1 trillion-plus budget deficit. And McConnell is signaling his concern about the awkward politics of the situation: even if the DeMint moratorium passes, Republican senators could push for earmarks, given that the plan is nonbinding and non-enforceable…

DeMint on Tuesday released a list of 10 other Republican senators who back his proposal, including Cornyn, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, John Ensign of Nevada, Mike Enzi of Wyoming — along with Sens.-elect Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire…

McConnell’s heightened activity signals what Senate insiders say is real fear among senior members — that the DeMint plan actually stands a serious chance of passing. And that could have uncomfortable implications for a bloc of GOP senators — like McConnell, a member of the Appropriations Committee — who annually send hundreds of millions of dollars for projects in their home states…

Jim Inhofe, as conservative as they come, plans on making the case for earmarks.

His argument is Ron Paul's, who famously never votes in favor of a budget but is always happy to earmark federal money for his district. The argument goes thus: Given any amount of x dollars flowing through the federal government, the decision as to how to spend it will either be made by unelected bureaucrats of the executive, or by elected members of the legislature. Thus, Ron Paul argues, earmarking money for specific projects is not unethical at all, but somehow a kind of assertion of the Constitutional order of things.

One can also note this: It is John McCain who has fought most vigorously against earmarks, but largely as a method of fighting corruption, not reducing federal spending. Earmarks, he reckons, are handmaidens to corruption, as money flows in to campaigns and then flows out, a thousandfold, as earmarks benefiting "friends."

And one can further note that the blogosphere has ran with the idea that earmarks are the enemy, reinforcing the meme, but without a great deal of thinking going into the exercise.

All that may be true, but here's some inescapable truth: Earmarks are largely a competitive exercise between legislators to demonstrate to their constituents that they are better at delivering federal resources to local concerns than their fellows. The question, regarding pork, is never Does he deliver pork? (almost everyone delivers some) but rather Does he bring in more pork than his colleagues? Harry Reid, for example, ran on that idea, that among the other porkers on Capitol Hill he was especially porky and thus especially useful to his constituents.

There is no way that every legislator can earn the title "King of Pork," as John Murtha and Robert Byrd did (pork be upon them), nor even lesser titles such as Duke of Pork or Viscount of Pork.

In order to demonstrate pork-effectiveness to local voters, to show one is in the game of delivering deliverables to local concerns, the only way everyone can "win" is simply to agree to everyone else's earmarks and in so doing increase the size of federal spending. If everyone playing the game delivers more pork than in the previous year, everyone "wins."

Except for future generations, of course, who will go hungry because we're eating their seedcorn.

It's much like a post I wrote on Sunday mentioned (and in fact I meant to bring up this point in relation to Rand Paul's backsliding on earmarks): Just as Democrats and Republicans can conspire together to look good to their respective voters -- delivering both increased spending and lower taxes -- with no one noticing except future generations saddled, invisibly, with the high costs of the conspiracy, so too can sitting incumbent legislators of both parties increase their personal chances of remaining in power (irrespective of which party winds up winning the most seats in Congress) by conspiring together to bless each other's earmarks and, in so doing, increase the budget.

All of them can claim a defense on this point -- "Well, sure, I voted in favor of my own earmarks while voting to cut everyone else's, so my intent was to reduce spending" -- but that is absurd, because in the end while legislators may "fight" to reduce each other's pork, in the end they bless each other's pork to secure a blessing in return of their own.

And thus the government grows, as today's special earmark becomes tomorrow's baseline spending.

Earmarks are a tiny part of federal spending -- that is true. The budget won't be balanced by cutting earmarks, certainly.

But the budget must be cut, slashed really, from current levels, and that means of course that current spending obligations will have to be greatly reduced -- and we therefore then have hardly any room to begin pushing new spending obligations.

If government spending is to be reduced at all, the understanding must be that it will be limited to the absolute essentials only, and perhaps a bit less than that. And any new federal spending is obviously, I think, not absolutely essential, because, if it were essential, how is it exactly we were able to get by so long without it?

Add into the mix John McCain's not-inconsequential point about earmarks being grease on the skids of corruption and the case against earmarks becomes stronger. No legislator compromised by sketchy earmarks will be able to take a hard stance against government growth -- once you're rented you're practically owned.

If Republicans are serious about cutting the size of government -- and I sincerely doubt they are, but that's what we're here for, to hold them to the fire -- then they should be drawing up lists of spending to be rescinded and monies to be impounded, not exciting new ways to piss away taxpayer dollars.

This is especially critical considering we pretend to be the party of free markets and free enterprise. Democrats at least have a theory about industrial policy and shaping the economy to its centrally-planned perfect state which justifies their attempts to choose winners and losers in the marketplace; what's our excuse for doing so?

We're not only pro-free-market (supposedly), we're also pro-localism. Federal payouts to handchosen local businesses violates our free-market principles, while federal subsidies for infrastructure and other government-initiated but wholly local affairs is a violation of our federalist principles.

Porking up the budget is not just a betrayal of small-government principles for conservatives, but just about every other principle as well.

I almost cannot believe -- and yet, still can manage it -- that after being given a second chance by the public and a mandate to restrain and then reduce the growth of government, our first order of business in the Senate is going to be clearing the way to increasing it again.

Two Opinions on Pork, The Right One and the Wrong One: Swamp_Yankee is claiming pork doesn't increase the amount of spending as it is merely directing dollars out of a pool of money already appropriated.

That's not really true -- today's earmark tends to become tomorrow's baseline expenditure -- but to the extent it is, Allen_G has a good response:

If you're earmarking, that implies that there was a mass of money sitting around being used for less than critical purposes. After all, you're merely directing money already sitting around being wasted on on less-important purposes towards more important purposes, right?

Well, if that's the case, if that money was sitting around being used for non-critical purposes: Cut that spending, reduce that appropriation, and impound that money to pay down the debt. If money is being wasted on nonessential purposes, do not get creative and imagine exciting new ways to spend it on more important things; cut it entirely and "spend" it on the most important project of all: Reducing the size of the federal government and avoiding a Greek-style meltdown in 2020.

An Additional Reform I'd Like To See: All legislators proposing any new spending of any kind (whether pork or general expenditures) should be required to sign their names to a Statement of Necessity, reading thus:

I, [name], assert and vow upon my honor that the spending I hereby propose is of greater importance than reducing the size and ambition of federal government and of safeguarding our children's legacy.

And make them sign that for every line-item of new spending they want to authorize.

And then we'll see who's a conservative and who's just a Statist wearing the red intramural jersey.

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posted by Ace at 03:31 PM

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