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In Defense of Earmarks

Mar. 11, 2009
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One of the signs of lazy journalism is when reporters pick up the rhetorical cliches of one political party and begin using them as if they were facts.

Despite all the accusations of a liberal bias in the media, anyone who watches closely will notice the establishment press is far more likely to adopt the language of conservatives than of liberals. That’s why we had a flood of reporting on “vote fraud” that didn’t exist and “welfare reform” that didn’t reform welfare at all, but simply slashed it.

The latest example is all the reporting you’ve read about congressional “earmarks” bloating the federal budget with wasteful spending. In the world of anti-government conservatives, an earmark, which is a specific spending project placed into federal legislation by a member of Congress, equals government waste and political pork.

The media have simply adopted the point of view of the extreme right and begun reporting on a pork-filled budget bill crammed with billions of dollars in wasteful spending.

But the media don’t know what they’re talking about. That would require looking at each individual project to determine whether it was “a bridge to nowhere” or a worthwhile expenditure to create jobs during the economic crisis, improve education or fund valuable research for our nation’s future.

That’s why it was a breath of fresh air when Milwaukee Congresswoman Gwen Moore appeared on our radio show recently to express pride in all the congressional earmarks she’s inserted into every federal budget bill since she’s been in office.

Moore notes that Article I of the Constitution gives members of the House of Representatives the responsibility of originating all spending bills. She doesn’t expect the other 434 members of the House to look out for Milwaukee. That’s the job she was elected to do. And she’s certainly not going to apologize for bringing $7.4 million back to Wisconsin and her district in the current budget bill.

As one of the members of Congress whose district is on the Great Lakes, she’s proud that “every single term I’ve put in an earmark [is] to take care of my lake.”

Moore says she knows far better than any president or any anonymous bureaucrat sitting in Washington passing out federal grants what would be some of the most worthwhile projects in her district to address the needs of her community.

The important thing is that federal money be spent well to create jobs, restore infrastructure, improve education and carry out valuable research that will pay off in the future.


Enough Jokes

One of the tricks of conservative Republicans is to pull out funny-sounding projects they think they can turn into cheap jokes. The current example is a $1.7 million earmark Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin placed in the current budget for research into controlling the odor from pig waste. Republicans have been chortling like fifth-graders.

But if you live in Iowa, where 3 million people are far outnumbered by 20 million hogs on corporate pig farms, reservoirs of pig waste are a serious environmental hazard. Karen Forbes, an Iowan who lives near a huge agribusiness hog lot, said it’s sometimes impossible to go outside for a week: “It burned your eyes. You couldn’t breathe. You had to take a deep breath and run for your garage.”

Rep. Moore has had to endure shortsighted ridicule herself from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for inserting an earmark for a “poop to power” research project at Marquette University. But she’s had the last laugh, as methane gas research has resulted in growing consideration of recycling animal and human waste as a serious alternative to provide future energy.

Earmarks have been used corruptly in the past, of course. Most notable was that famous Alaskan bridge to not much of anywhere that Sarah Palin supported before opposing when she ran for vice president.

When Republicans controlled Congress, many earmarks were midnight amendments inserted into the budget anonymously to protect the guilty. Earmarks have been reformed under the Democrats. Every single earmark Moore inserts in the budget has her name attached to it. On the Senate side, they carry the name of Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl. Both are prepared to justify the expenditures.

Democratic Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold has joined his old campaign finance reform ally Republican Sen. John McCain in opposing all earmarks. Feingold, a true maverick, frequently takes extremely conservative fiscal positions almost as a counterpoint to his far more liberal social positions.

Earmarks have become even easier to defend in the current economic crisis. Another term for government spending is “job creation.”

Republicans are voting “no” to economic recovery and publicly hoping for the failure of President Barack Obama and America. Democrats are trying to head off another Great Depression. With the federal government feverishly trying to create jobs, Moore is making sure some of them get created in Milwaukee.

What’s your take? 

Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.


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