Sunday, December 24, 2006

Blackburn Goes Soft on Earmarks

Tennessee Congressman Marsha Blackburn wrote an op-ed defending the use of earmarks, saying that the $33 billion spent on earmarks in fiscal 2006 is minuscule when considered alongside the entire federal budget. When ever a Congressman talks this way, The Oracle wonders that his or parents failed to teach them the value of a billion. Even so, it can be admitted that Blackburn is partly right: earmarks by themselves do not account for the federal budget deficit. Of course, shoplifting by itself does not account for the failure of retailers to make a profit. However, both earmark spending and other forms of thievery are important issues to be addressed, and it is sad to see Blackburn so dismissing the problem.

Blackburn doesn't like the alternative to the use of earmarks -- giving bureaucrats "control." In so arguing, the Congressman shows a blatant disrespect toward the appropriations process, which is subject to hearings and congressional oversight. The Oracle is not in the habit of defending the government bureaucracy, but he would note that congressional approval or rejection of funding requests by government agencies at least represents an orderly process and a responsibility for prioritization. Earmarks constitute funding not requested by an agency because the project was either not needed or not considered a priority. The beneficiary is not efficient government, but some favored entity within the Congressman's district.

While Blackburn seeks to differentiate the problem of earmarks from that of mandatory spending, she ignores the fiscal attitudes that contribute to both. Congressmen who cavalierly spend taxpayer money on favored projects are not likely to make hard decisions to save funds on larger issues. Those who find it acceptable to require taxpayers in Oregon to pay for a project that benefits only Tennessee are not likely to make tough choices on social security reform.

In supporting earmarks, Blackburn spends much time pulling out her anti Tennessee income tax bona fides. That is all very good, but Blackburn is aggressively vying for congressional leadership, and Americans know that their leaders frequently "grow." If Blackburn wishes to defend the view that election to Congress begins a foraging expedition for taxpayer money for one's district, then her growth has been most unfortunate.

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