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The Obama Earmark Trap

President Obama is sitting over at the White House praying that Republican Leadership in the Senate defeats Senator Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) earmark ban.  Remember when Republicans were hit hard for voting against the Stimulus Plan, then some of them sent letters to the Obama Administration requesting projects?  The current earmark debate is turning into a similar political trap and some Senate Republicans are falling for it hook, line and sinker.

This debate is going down the same road of the Simulus debate where many Republicans and Democrats who voted against the Stimulus were painted as hypocrites for requesting projects. 

From the Washington Post:

Rep. Pete Sessions, the firebrand conservative from Texas, has relentlessly assailed the Democratic stimulus efforts as a package of wasteful “trillion-dollar spending sprees” that was “more about stimulating the government and rewarding political allies than growing the economy and creating jobs.” But that didn’t stop the Republican lawmaker from seeking stimulus money behind the scenes for the Dallas suburb of Carrollton after the GOP campaign against the 2009 stimulus law quieted down.

Expect free spending liberals in the Obama Administration to portray themselves as to the right of the Senate Republican Conference on wasteful earmarks.

Although the President has signed bills containing earmarks, he has expressed opposition to the practice.  The Obama Administration has stated that if Republicans send him appropriations bills with pork in them, he will fight to get earmarks out of the bill.  If the Senate Republican Conference rejects the DeMint earmark proposal, President Obama will have a field day making Republicans look like hypocrites on yet another spending issue.

Some are arguing that the President’s opposition to earmarks is a reason to oppose the DeMint earmark two year moratorium.  They argue that the President would have too much discretion on how to spend the taxpayers dollars.  The truth is that the President’s opposition should be the strongest argument for the earmark ban, because his administration and allies will use the issue to argue that Republicans want to go back to the free spending ways of the past.

Brian Riedl of The Heritage Foundation points out that the FY2009 spending bill was loaded with earmarks and this is a bipartisan problem:

Although Democrats strongly criticized the proliferation of earmarks under Republican rule, they have made no serious efforts to pare them back. The omnibus bill spends $12.8 billion on 9,287 earmarks.  When combined with the early 2009 spending bills ($16.1 billion spent on 2,627 earmarks, the 2009 total comes to 11,914 earmarks at a cost of $28.9 billion. This represents the second most earmarks-and the second highest cost-in American history.

Republicans and Democrats have both used the earmark as a means to funnel federal tax dollars to districts and states.  The problem is that members of the Appropriations Committee like the practice and don’t want it to end.

As I wrote in Human Events in 2009, Senator John McCain talks about the three parties in Washington — Republicans, Democrats and Appropriators:

During the stimulus debate, McCain mentioned “$150 million for honey bee insurance,” adding: “This is a Christmas tree done by appropriators, and we proved when we tried to eliminate the earmarks that there are three kinds of senators in the Senate: Republicans, Democrats and appropriators.”

Why are Republicans so resistant to this idea when they have voted in the past to ban earmarks?  It is because most of the Republicans in this Congress have requested earmarks.  According to a November 9, 2010 AP story:

DeMint won backing from 25 Senate Republicans, including McConnell, earlier this year to impose an earmark ban on Republicans and Democrats alike. Despite winning the support of a majority of Republicans, the proposal was easily defeated by Democrats and 14 pro-earmark Republicans. Thirty-three of 41 Senate Republicans then sought earmarks in this year’s unfinished roster of spending bills.

It is a myth that the President’s mere opposition to earmarks is a strong argument for Republicans to support earmarks.  This is one issue where the President has taken the correct position — probably for the sole purpose of outflanking Congressional Republicans on one spending issue.  Expect Republicans in the Senate to be beaten over the head with this issue if they go back to earmarking in 2011 and if they shoot down Senator DeMint’s proposal.

Update:  A friend of mine pointed out that I may have given too much credit to Obama’s anti-earmark position.

Obama during the campaign only said he would personally not ask for earmarks; when asked last week about the Cantor proposal for a moratorium, he said it is something worth talking about but he avoided saying he would agree.  By saying he would fight to get earmarks out of the bill, do you mean he supports enhanced rescission?  Of course, he has never submitted any such legislation or provided any list of earmarks he would eliminate.  Many media outlets have reported that Obama is either opposed to earmarks or would veto bills but we have never seen any evidence of such statements and he has never vetoed any bill with earmarks.

A valid point.  Maybe I overstated the President’s earmark position.

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