Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Absurdity of Running Against Earmarks


John McCain's official campaign position on earmarks:
I will veto every bill with earmarks, until the Congress stops sending bills with earmarks.
John McCain, acting as a Senator:
Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Sunday he probably would have voted for legislation to keep the federal government running after midweek, even though it was packed with the kind of "outrageous pork-barrel spending" he has long opposed.

"That's the way they always do," the Arizona senator said dismissively of fellow lawmakers. "You put in the, you put in the good deals, and then you put in the pork, as well." He said separate votes should be allowed on the bill's different provisions.

McCain did not vote on the measure when it cleared Congress on Saturday, although he returned to Washington after Friday night's campaign debate in Mississippi. McCain said he was working on other matters at the time of the vote, including negotiations on a bailout of the financial industry.

"I certainly would have done everything in my power to remove those earmarks," he told ABC's "This Week" in an interview. "But I may have voted for it if, I probably would have ended up voting for it, but I decry a system where individual members are, are faced with taking all this unacceptable, outrageous stuff that has contributed to the largest growth in spending since the Great Society."
So as a Senator he sees the necessity of voting for a bill, loaded with earmarks, to keep the government running or to avoid a financial crisis, but as President he would veto the bill and shut down the government or allow the credit markets to freeze up? Why do I doubt that.

Focusing on government waste and excess is easy because there are so many measures that either appear wasteful or are wasteful, and people don't like to see their taxpayer dollars wasted. But they're a reality in our political system, and it's not realistic to threaten to veto "every bill" that contains earmarks. There's also the question of whether particular earmarks, even those that are among the easiest to ridicule, are inappropriate uses of federal funds. Does McCain understand the purpose of analyzing bear DNA in Montana? If so, does he oppose the goals of those who requested and obtained that earmark? Also, unfortunately, we can't balance the budget, or even make an appreciable dent in the deficit, even with the total elimination of earmarks - technically they don't even increase the budget, but instead allocate funds that have already been appropriated to specific projects.

I'm singling out McCain hear because of the particular absurdity of his concession that, yes, he would vote for bills with earmarks (and in fact voted in favor of the bill containing the Grizzly Bear DNA earmark). I'm not sure, though, if it is worse to throw out fake "solutions" to deficits, or to take Obama's approach, pretty much ignoring the issue. I don't expect Presidential candidates to spend a lot of time talking about how to balance a budget, save perhaps for those rare occasions when they're fighting over how to burn through a budget surplus. But I wish we were in a culture where we could have a mature discussion of deficits and tax policy within the context of a Presidential election, or for that matter at any other time. There's a media failure here, but it's also a societal failure of will.

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