When Republicans Fight

An interesting editorial from IBD on the battle over earmarks:

The House of Representatives already has a ban on the infamous practice of earmarks — local pet projects that members of Congress arrange to have financed federally. In the wake of the election, serious conservative senators such as Jim DeMint, R-S.C., are demanding such a ban in their chamber.

With Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., against him, DeMint looks like the personification of the Tea Party revolting against the GOP’s old guard. And as far as John Q. Public is concerned — whether he’s a Tea Partyer or not — the practice looks sleazy and stopping it seems reasonable.

DeMint considers it symbolically crucial, arguing that Congress will never reform its massive, bankruptcy-destined entitlement programs while lawmakers can cater to their own parochial interests.

With a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of nearly 90%, however, McConnell is far from a Republican In Name Only. In resisting DeMint, he warns that banning earmarks won’t cut any spending. And worse, it would shift legislative appropriation powers to President Obama.

The heavy lifting against banning earmarks is being done by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who spent nine lonely years fighting the political establishment, including many Republicans, on global warming, finally finding himself vindicated last year by ClimateGate.

The National Journal’s “Most Conservative Senator” of 2009 says every single one of the famous “102 worst ways the government is spending your tax dollars” highlighted by Fox News’ Sean Hannity was a presidential, not congressional, earmark. The list includes $2 million for miniature flying robot bees in Massachusetts and $1 million to study the division of labor in ant colonies in Arizona.

The senator points to a Hill newspaper report that found lobbyists gravitating toward executive branch bureaucrats instead of senators and congressmen for spending favors. He notes that earmarks accounted for only 1.5% of all discretionary spending last year.

Inhofe says earmarks gave U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq improved armor [remember that battle? -ed.] and financed the anti-terrorist Predator drone, both items he says would never have been funded by Presidents Obama and Bush.

Writing in National Review last week, Inhofe said the Obama stimulus “famously did not contain a single congressional” earmark, yet ended up funding “hundreds of frivolous items such as a clown show in Pennsylvania, studying the mating decisions of the female cactus bug, and a helicopter able to detect radioactive rabbit droppings, to name a few.”

I’m not a fan of either DeMint or Inhofe, but setting personal opinions aside, it seems to me Inhofe and McConnell have some points about earmarks – such as it would give more spending authority to the Executive and how earmarks have been a useful way to get additional spending through when necessary.

Perhaps earmarks are an easy target and/or perhaps DeMint wants to look fiscally tough, but if banning earmarks gives the Executive branch more power to use earmarks, it doesn’t seem a likely way to stop fiscal waste. The debate is sure to remain interesting.

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