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Whose Earmark Is It, Anyway?

One of the more interesting facts of American politics is that elected representatives who succeed in bringing home federal money [aka: earmarks] for projects in their districts are usually highly regarded in those districts but seen as foolish spendthrifts betraying the public trust by those who live elsewhere.

This morning we have a report from the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense which tells us that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton helped secure more than $340 million worth of projects for New York in last year's spending bills while Sen. Barack Obama brought home only $91 for Illinois. Clinton and Obama, of course, are in a very interesting race for the Democratic nomination for president. Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, who has all but officially locked up the Republican nomination, rejects earmarks, which should certainly give him a talking point on the question of whether he's a true conservative.

Some of commenters see this story as an attack on Clinton; others see it as affirmation of the wonderful job she is doing for her constituents. Some see earmarks as a useful way to bring federal tax money back home, others see them as a flagrant misuse of public funds. Still others suggest that McCain's support for the War in Iraq is a huge unfunded earmark.

So with that as background, we'll start our review of comments on Paul Kane's article with this observation from infuse, who wrote, "Clinton supporters have been screaming for the media to pay attention to her record of accomplishments. Well, here is what she's done lately. So why do I suspect they will find fault with this too?"

Turns out infuse was prescient. For example, binkynh said, "Clinton: $340,000,000 in earmarks. Clinton: Among the top ten Senate recipients of pork. What else do you need to know?"

comingawakening said the article shows that The Washington Post does not understand "the concept behind order of magnitude" and wrote that "...If she [Clinton] was able to get $340,000,000 of her constituencies money back into her state [New York], it would equal to $18 per person... Obama's... $91,000,000 would equate to $7 per person in his state...In contract, McCain's party and his war policy has spent $1,500,000,000,000 on an occupation which led to a Civil War that we have no exit strategy for..."

charko825 said, "I can see the ads now:
Scene: pictures of Clinton (340 mill) and Obama (19 mill) with oinking noises of pigs in the background audio...oinking gets louder and louder....
Second scene: picture of John McCain with American flag in sky, rolling wheat fields--caption at bottom of screen reads 'no pigs here!' "

IAmend suggested that we "Calculate what the illegal, immoral, criminal, and disastrous Republican-led invasion of Iraq cost to date. That will mostly be McCain's "earmark" for the GOP's principal backers. And Clinton's, too, since she supported the war. Obama said "no" to the invasion of Iraq and that puts him WAY ahead of most nominees... in morality, common sense, courage, and in fiscal responsibility!!! Oops. He must be a REAL Conservative."

fadeddreams wrote, "Whether its Hillary in New York or Obama in Chicago both of these cities need earmarks. Let the winner receive the spoils. Good Luck in eliminating spending which went out with the supply side economics...No wonder the debt is approaching 10 trillion--and we want to tell the Chinese what to do?"

walkerbert said, "In order to break the national debt habit, the earmark thing needs to be discontinued. Or, drastically reduced. Sure, you can have your earmark, here's 20 bucks. Now, get out of my office. Get all Daily Bugle about that."

diksagev wrote, "Here is yet another area where Hillary is simply set up to be taken to the cleaners in a general election campaign against McCain; but mark my word - she will turn around and claim to have the upper hand (somehow) on this issue too."

goldie2 wrote that "Of course McCain does accept campaign contributions from federal lobbyists, with 59 lobbyists raising money for his campaign. That is huge. And his disclosure about that has not been great..."

lichtme said, "McCain's waterless cities survive thanks to my tax dollars--
the earmarks to pay for doomed desert cities are the biggest and stupidest and most expensive of them all"

jcrozier1 wrote, "...How the **** do you people set your article priorities? This worthless article, detailing a few million dollars out of a budget in the trillions, is the lead story? The Washington Post has gone a long way downhill from the days when you idiots actually investigated stories of real importance."

To which robert17 responded, "...Gee, I don't remember you complaining in 2006 that the Republicans were being unfairly tarnished by the Democrats over earmarks because they only amount to a small portion of the budget. It's a weak argument no matter which side of the aisle it comes from."

edclane said, "Sure there are bad earmarks, and those should be cleaned up.
I'm waiting to hear how Mac tends to replace the the thousands of jobs that get eliminated along with the earmarks. Good timing in a recession!!"

But CinDC wrote, "Three cheers for John McCain for avoiding the Washington Culture of Corruption, even after his many years of service. Senator Obama is more of the same old garbage on this issue."

SarahBB said, "McCain secured one big earmark -- the war in Iraq. That's a lot of billions and if he has his way, we'll be in Iraq for a hundred years and talking about the war in Iran early on in his administration. I'll take the lesser of two evils."

We'll close with graced8669, who wrote, "...I agree that earmarks must be stopped. Everything possible should be put into the budget upfront. If there needs to be additional funding for something, then it needs to come to the floor seperately and be voted on..."

All comments on the earmark article are here.

By Doug Feaver  |  February 14, 2008; 8:50 AM ET
Categories:  Congress  
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kevin devoto writes: This is insightful and helpful. Please bring more of this to our attention. thanks kevin devoto

Posted by: kevin devoto | February 19, 2008 1:15 AM | Report abuse

Pork creates jobs and get people re-elected, which is why the pork is hard to stop. Judging by the military contractor communities voting for John McCain, he also engages in military pork. Defense purchases for overpriced, underutilized items is quite common. Have we ever used Star wars? Does it work? Do we need it? These are questions only those at the top can answer, carte blanche is wasteful when preparing a defense budget. Cuts to the military must be considered carefully before we leave ourselves at risk and our men unprepared. The idea of shooting down a rogue nations ICBMs seems expensive with star wars when most fueling rockets can be hit with naval launched cruise missiles before launch everywhere but China and Russia.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 15, 2008 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Great! Your timing seems to be almost perfect. Howcome you waited this late to bring out this report? Why now? This sounds an awful lot like Smear Tactics with regards to Hillary Clinton, if not the Democratic Party in general.

Posted by: Bocona | February 14, 2008 4:32 PM | Report abuse

My compliments to the contributors to these comments. They are not mean spirited or ad hominum. Also I agree with a lot that I have read here. That being said, I'm not against bringing home some $$ to help worthwhile projects in the the state that sent you to serve our country.

What bothers me is being commited to an endless war in a far away land to help insure that the oil keeps flowing. I remember a similar war the purpose of which seemed to be to SAVE VIETNAM FROM THE VIETNAMESE. Of course, Vietnam didn't have any oil that I know of and there was not much talk about creating an American style democracy or what religion if any was practised there (the self imolation of monks notwithstanding).

Yes, the rascals that we send to Washington have their long standing habits of scratching each others backs. It's part of their culture & there are enough folks watching what they do, that "Bridges to nowhere" don't get built.

But imagine the wonder of it if all this money that we're shelling out to "save Iraq from the Iraqies, was spent on a concerted effort to reduce or iliminate our dependence on fossel fuel with viable substitutes, be it wind farms, solar panels, sugar or corn fuels.

But none of the above bothers me as much as all the talk that I hear or read about sending a new Commander In Chief to Washington next November. I guess I'm old fashioned enough to settle for electing a President. But maybe I'm too "long in the tooth" and not in touch with the "new order" of things!! It reminds me with much concern of some German guy back in the 1930's and 40's who also wanted a new order.

Posted by: Jay | February 14, 2008 2:01 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe that some people have the gall to defend HRCs earmarks. Some of them, of course, are perfectly legitimate (I have no problem with her getting earmarks to build roads in NY, for not-for-profit companies, etc.); but several of the earmarks listed are defense companies. Weren't we all, as good Democrats, suppose to be p'ed off about Halliburton getting no-bid contracts from the DoD? But when one of our people gives out, what are essentially, no-bid contracts for something the military isn't even asking for its to be lauded? McCain's lack of earmark abuse is the last thing he has going for him after(I still can't believe he voted against that torture ban/ note the HRC didn't even show up so there goes her ammunition on that) the pass few weeks. It will be an issue in the general, HRC is looking like a weaker and weaker candidate to me (being tough/hardworker can't beat the facts --- or maybe it can?)

Posted by: beau | February 14, 2008 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Defense is one of the main reasons we have a federal budget and are taxed. Spending $340,000,000 on New York earmarks is not. I am so tired of the way this goes unnoticed and am so glad that the Republican Party is finally putting up a candidate that walks the walk when it comes to pork in Washington. McCain will limit and focus where our hard earned tax dollars are spent and fight like heck to not have to sign any bill that contains pork ... which is exactly what we need right now to get our budget mess under control.

Posted by: Eric | February 14, 2008 12:17 PM | Report abuse

BTW --
"Jobs that depend on government earmarks are not good jobs.
They go away as the money runs out."
Posted by: E Ramirez | February 14, 2008 11:00 AM
Ramirez, try telling that to some penniless college student just trying to earn his way to pay books, tuition and survive to get his degree.
I say again:
It's all in whose ox is gored.

Posted by: Judy in Big Thicket of TX | February 14, 2008 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Earmarks are termed "Pork" but it's all a matter of whose "pig" is gored.
I remember one morning recently watching Congress waste 20 minutes of C-Span time debating a bill to name an upcoming week, "National Country and Western Music Week." No debaters took a position against the bill. Congressmen from various Southern states, including our own Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) rose in the well to carry on about the marvels of country and western music.
As I watched this charade, I was disgusted. This is all they have to do all day? Some staffer had to spend his time and our tax-dollars for his salary and office to write up comments for the good Congressman to use to appear on C-Span? This keeps Congress in session?
With all the problems we have in this current world?
Earmarks for small items of regional interest, such as funding rural firefighting equipment purchases in remote areas with a poor tax base, for university funding for research in many academic areas, for development and construction of regional museums, regional celebrations, etc., that benefit tourism, save Congress valuable time and money having to compete with attention with major bills.
The Republicans have no room to complain about this vehicle to provide federal support for regional projects.
I remember a national project Ronald Reagan set up: the national celebration of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus on the 500th anniversary in 2002. A huge committee of corporate big-wigs was organized. The plans to spend the millions allotted were monumental.
All that money, all that effort disappeared down a sink of corruption that provoked the Justice Department to put a lot of federal U.S. attorneys to work to track down the sources of the stench.
That was the end of celebrating the Discovery of America as a national holiday.
How do I know this? Because our area had one of the few evening dinners and entertainment for this event, and we had the largest attended event in the nation that Columbus Day, thanks to our local congressman, Nick Lampson, (D-TX). It was a memorable experience to pause and remember that historic discovery.
I guess it's all in your motive to target which programs to label spending necessary or wasteful "bacon."

Posted by: Judy in Big Thicket of TX | February 14, 2008 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Jobs that depend on Government earmarks are not good jobs they go away as the money runs out.

Posted by: E Ramirez | February 14, 2008 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Considering how much money the federal government has taken from the States to give to they're corporate friends in Iraq, and the appalling condition of our state infrastructures, it's hard to fault anyone for trying to bring a tiny percentage of that money back to their states.
The real issue will be what that money is used for. If it's going to help the
working class people of a state, (and they sure could use some help), then I say "fine, get as much as you can". If , on the other hand, it's just going to go to the wealthy, then they're no better than the federal government which has been taking care of the wealthy for the past 8 years.
So the question isn't how much they earmarked, it's why they earmarked it.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 14, 2008 10:57 AM | Report abuse

NY state has about a population of 20 million. IL state is about 12 million.

That sets things a bit more in perspective. Also, getting money for projects at what cost? Who owes who in the end?

Finally, what does really matter for Democrats? Who can beat John McCain.

Obama vs. McCain- The Internet Indicators:

Posted by: David | February 14, 2008 9:30 AM | Report abuse

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