| Part 3 of FSP's post-July 4th catching up on news stories we missed:
This Baltimore Sun piece on congressional earmarks raised my eyebrows, and it took me a while to figure out why. For starters, let's look at the group that apparently spurred this article:
Citizens Against Government Waste has asked all 535 members of Congress to release their requests. As of Friday, 56 had complied, according to the Washington-based independent group's Web site.
"The requests tell you a whole lot about what the members' mentality is, what they want to get, what they're trying to get," said Leslie K. Paige, a spokeswoman for the group. "It's a very interesting window into their attitude and their culture."
The thing to know about CAGW is that they're a right-wing front group, known for their advocacy for the tobacco industry, Microsoft during its antitrust battles, even Jack Abramoff. Though they claim to oppose wasteful spending, they all too often conflate pork (earmarks) with all government spending. So I would take anything they say with a grain of salt.
The other thing to note, which undercuts CAGW's argument, is this paragraph buried deep in the article (emphasis added):
Earmarks account for less than 1 percent of the federal budget. But the increase in their number, from 4,126 in 1994 to 15,268 in 2005, and projects such as the "bridge to nowhere" -- the $223 million span proposed to connect a sparsely populated island in Alaska to the mainland -- have helped to focus public outrage.
This is what makes the debate over earmarks somewhat baffling: Compared with the military, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, the impact of earmarks on the federal budget is trivial. Much like welfare and foreign aid, though, its size is routinely blown out of proportion.
Having said that, earmarks are troubling because they are often used, as Kevin Drum has observed, as an incumbent protection racket. Don Young's "Bridge to Nowhere" was egregious, of course, but more common are plausibly useful things like Roscoe Bartlett's earmarks for a train station and naval weapons manufacturing. Few people are going to oppose things that benefit their district, which makes it harder for challengers to mount a credible campaign against the incumbent.
As for the main point of the article -- that Maryland Republicans have been more open recently about their earmarks than Maryland Democrats -- it is dismaying, although given that Republicans have been mostly responsible for the rise in earmarks to begin with, a little rich. But we're going to find out about everyone's earmarks soon enough, so it's not as if we're being kept in the dark permanently about this. There is, however, one congressman whose earmarks I'd like to know more about...