As Ezra Klein writes:
Like a lot of McCain's posturing, his war on pork makes for good headlines and bad governance. If he were anywhere near as dogmatic on earmarks as he claims to be, it's impossible to imagine him passing any major legislation. Ever. Or voting for any major legislation. Or approving budget bills and spending. Or having a working relationship with Congress. Or getting reelected, as every district in the country finds crucial programs and infrastructure subsidies are being cut.
Meanwhile, whenever the topic turns to earmarks, I always suggest that folks go play around with the Sunlight Foundation's interactive earmarks map. Earmarks
are rarely obviously wasteful. Rather, they're small appropriations that exist
beneath the urgency level that would merit federal consideration. So districts
and states elect individual representatives and one of their side jobs is to push through local priorities. Those priorities may be odd, but relatively few are obviously wasteful. Type in my hometown of Irvine, and the nearest earmark is in Long Beach: $450,000 to outfit the children's hospital. Near to that is Mission Viejo, with $400,000 for the Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care Unity. And a tick over from that is Huntington Beach, which got $50,000 for an afterschool arts education program for low income youth. It's easy to talk about cutting studies on bear DNA. It's a bit harder to explain why you want to cut children's hospitals and afterschool programs. And it's nearly impossible to then say how you're going to pass bills after you do.
[As Klein suggests, check out that interactive earmarks map.]
In the early ‘90’s, before Republicans took control of Congress, the number of earmarks was under 1000 and totaled less than $3 billion. The use of earmarks peaked with the last budget Republicans passed before losing control of Congress in 2006 – at over 14,000 earmarks worth more than $27 billion. Since then, Democrats have cut them by a third – this year they total $18 billion. But let’s put that in context:
So that is the focus of McCain’s economic policy.
As it turns out, the Queen of Earmarks is Sarah Palin. According to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, Palin hired a Washington lobbyist to secure earmarks for tiny Wasilla, Alaska when she was mayor. The town of 6,715 received nearly $27 million in federal dollars from 2000 to 2003. Alaska has the highest amount of earmarks per capita of any state in the country. As governor of Alaska, Palin requested $198 million in earmarks in next year's federal budget.
She’s good at this stuff. But, then, she should be. She learned from the master himself, the former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee when Republicans controlled the Senate, Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). She ran his 527 group “Ted Stevens Excellence in Public Service, Inc.” (this is the “independent” political entity that Stevens used to raise unlimited funds from corporate donors).
Stevens is currently standing trial in federal court for bribery. (Because the statute of limitations has run on the bribery charge, Stevens is actually standing trial for failure to disclose gifts. But the underlying offense is bribery.)