November 12 2010
Senator Jim DeMint is offering the Senate a chance to do something that is both thrifty and symbolic: abolish earmarks. Fifteen senators (this includes six senators-elect) have signed onto the ban, while 13 (including such old bulls as Mitch McConnell and James Inhofe) are opposing it.
Kimberley Strassal of the Wall Street Journal notes:
And so, instead of the GOP leading the debate on spending freezes or ObamaCare, the newspapers and radio programs are filled with Mr. Inhofe declaring an "all out war" against those in his party trying to demonstrate some spending restraint. The Oklahoman, who is looking forward to the upcoming highway spending bill, went further to lament that so many Americans have become "brainwashed" on the earmark issue. That's it. Blame the voters. It worked so well for Democrats.
Abolishing earmarks may be, as the McConnell-Inhofe faction says, largely symbolic-though I doubt that-but it's a potent symbol. The money may be spent in another way, as the pro-earmarks faction says-but can't we stop that, too?
I often go home to Mississippi, where a representative or senator's hold on office is evaluated by the amount of bacon he brings home. And do they ever bring it home! I am hugely interested in the Mississippi River flood of 1927, but I am appalled that my hometown should have gotten money from Washington to create a small flood museum. If the good citizens want such a museum, certainly they aren't too inert to raise the money. These projects give incumbents an advantage over any challenger. Earmarks are the Incumbents Protection Program.
As for the non-binding earmarks vote itself, it is symbolic. And, as Strassel notes, it's quite a symbol:
All those Republicans complaining that earmarks are a tiny part of the budget, and this just a "symbolic" vote? They've got one bit right. This is a hugely symbolic vote. The public is watching. And it is long-term credibility at stake. A GOP that is indeed intent on "serious" budget cuts is going to need public support for tough cuts. As GOP House Whip Eric Cantor has pointed out, a public that can't trust Republicans to fix "small" problems won't trust them on "large" ones.