Republican leaders subscribe to the theory that you can fool some of the people all of the time, and they hope they can fool enough of us to regain power some day. Instead of campaigning on the issues, they resort to any number of political “dirty tricks.” Here’s a case in point.
Defeated presidential candidate John McCain – abetted by the gullible media – scored political points by criticizing the rampant use of earmarks, and blaming President Obama for okaying them. But you and I know the $410 billion omnibus spending bill the President signed was bundled together over many months before he was sworn in.
Spending bills must be approved to fund the various branches of government, and normally a separate bill is passed for each branch. But because of partisan bickering and Congressional horse trading, the bills were delayed and finally – to forestall a government shutdown – the various bills were rolled into one big bundle.
If the new President had vetoed the bill, the federal government would have ground to a halt for weeks or months while Congress wrestled with the process of passing a revised bill. You can bet McCain and his buddies would have jumped all over Obama for that. Also, less than one percent of the bill was budgeted for earmarks, and the President did not have authority to veto individual parts of the bill; it was all or nothing. So he signed the spending bill, pledging to reform the earmarks process for next time. It will not be an easy task.
Members of Congress have been adding local projects to various bills for decades. As legislation wends its way through the House and Senate, members insert their pet projects – known as earmarks – into them. (In the past, legislators were even allowed to sponsor an earmark anonymously.) They make deals to vote for one another’s earmarks, and over the years the number of annual earmarks has soared into the thousands. Members of both parties are equally eager to “bring home the bacon.” In the current omnibus spending bill, Republicans have just as many earmarks as Democrats, and Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi – a Republican – has more than anybody.
Not all earmarks are “wasteful spending.” Earmarks give elected representatives an opportunity to bypass the bureaucracy and personally direct public spending in their districts. Members of Congress argue that they know better than Washington bureaucrats what projects would most benefit their local areas. President Obama objects to them on the grounds that they are inserted arbitrarily into legislation without having to compete for funds on their merits. Another objection is that earmarks are too often inserted surreptitiously, at the unchecked discretion of a single legislator. While many of these federal grants go to law enforcement, fire safety, schools, hospitals, parks, libraries and memorials, others are of less obvious public benefit. They are unabashedly intended to reward supporters and campaign contributors.
President Obama wants to ensure that earmarks are publicized in advance on the sponsoring legislator’s website, and are open to scrutiny at public hearings where members must defend their decisions. He has also called for closer scrutiny of funds given to private entities, and he wants competitive bidding on all private contracts to for-profit companies. He also wants the authority to revise and reject individual earmarks. Members of Congress have proposed some similar new rules but oppose giving the President the right to reject individual earmarks.
As you can see, McCain’s assault on the new President over earmarks is bogus. And McCain knows it it is bogus. But if he can fool enough of the people this time…