Jeff Flake: Obama Punted on Congressional Punting of Responsibility

In a typical display of beltway-insiderism, Politico ran a story today detailing Obama’s cautious approach to earmark reform. Earmarks, of course, are an enormous problem — routinely channeling 2 to 3 percent of an appropriations bill to specific rather than general purposes. Alas, perfidy! Referring to Obama’s speech on earmark reform, Loser of the Presidential Election John McCain had this to say:

“The president’s rhetoric is impressive, but his statement affirms we will continue to do business as usual in Washington,” said Obama’s old rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “This is an opportunity missed.”

Leaving aside for the moment that Congress is responsible for earmarks in bills, this seems prima facie evidence that John McCain will continue to use earmark reform as a political bludgeon, or in other words, continue business in Washington as usual. But let’s move on to Loser of the Presidential Election John McCain’s fellow Arizonan, Jeff Flake:

Taking liberties with vows attributed to St. Augustine, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) joked: “Give me sobriety but not yet. I think he kind of punted. Anything less than an actual veto threat is not going to be taken seriously by Congress.” If Obama does come back with rescissions, singling out projects to be excised from the budget, he could regain this initiative. But with an agenda as large as his own, the president is treading carefully between a House and Senate that have different views of their own on earmark reform.

Now let’s not leave aside for the moment that Congress is responsible for earmarks in appropriations bills. That is, there is a direct causal relationship between the existence of earmarks and the members of Congress who put them there. Therefore, one might assume the easiest and most direct way to reform “business as usual in Washington” would be for Congressmen and Senators to agree to stop earmarking spending in appropriations bills (sometimes these “agreements” can be enshrined legally through a “majority vote” “cloture vote in the Senate”). But of course, that’s not what they’ve done. Rather, they’ve punted asked the President to deal with the issue by veto threat because apparently earmarks are such a large issue that Congress can’t be bothered to take them seriously otherwise.

Naturally, I feel silly engaging with this argument on its merits, because I doubt that anyone truly believes that earmark reform deserves to be taken seriously except for the beltway press who are either stupid, lack personal dignity, or both.

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