The Fight Against the Fight Against Spending

Wasteful spending is bad. Except maybe when it’s not.

That’s what some members of Congress are saying now that the ban on earmarks is in place. In November of last year, Republicans made a vow to ban earmarks, a motion offered under unanimous consent by former Real World house member and current Republican House member Sean Duffy.

“Anyone who’s been listening to the American people can tell you that banning earmarks is a no-brainer,” Duffy said in an Op-Ed to Politico. “Throughout the year, Americans clamored for Washington to stop spending and start focusing on creating jobs. But Americans weren’t being heard.”

This came right around the time that Democrats proposed their own ban on earmarks for corporations.  In fact, President Obama famously said in his State of the Union address, “if a bill comes to my desk with earmarks in it, I will veto it.” The idea is that earmarks are wasteful spending, and in an economic downturn we should do everything we can to cut spending.

While the banning of earmarks is well underway, members of Congress have found other ways to get projects done: just straight up ask for it. Legislators have found a way around the earmark ban by going directly to the agencies involved in handing out the money.

Last Tuesday, an article ran in the Queens Courier about new funding for a YMCA program in Flushing. The $1.1 million grant was provided directly by the Department of Labor, via direct lobbying from Senator Chuck Schumer. And in January, Gary Ackerman petitioned another Queens project–a VA hospital in St. Albans– to the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Republicans are in on the game as well. Rep. Peter King, who is no stranger to earmarks himself, says the ability to reach out to these organizations is now very important now that the ban is in place.

“I will do everything I can to protect my district,” he told the Times.

While “earmark” can be a bad word when uttered by politicians in public, it makes sense that a lot of politicians would feel the way King does. For Gary Ackerman or Peter King to come out and say they’re against earmarks is like saying they’re against securing money for their districts.

Beyond just taking funds away from congressional districts, banning earmarks does little to reduce spending in the big picture, so the entire idea of banning earmarks in order to get tough on spending is no more than a game. And why should multi-term incumbents have to play?

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