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.

Pork for You

Here’s an interesting little tool you can play with to see where the dread earmarks have insidiously impacted your community. It’s actually pretty neat. Here’s a screenshot.

Some of the odious recepients of federal aid in my area of have been the Capital Area Food Bank and the AFSA Education Foundation. Also, If you scale the map out, you can see that a great deal of earmarks get directed towards the NIH. This is essentially a check on executive power; this is the best way for Congress to approrpiate research funds outside the purvue of the President’s budget. 

Pork In Lipstick

An MSNBC.com investigative report illuminates Sarah Palin’s personal crusade against earmarks as Mayor of Wasilla.

In a monthly status report to the city on March 7, 2000, newly hired “City Lobbyist” Steve Silver describes how the Palin administration had requested $6.6 million in federal earmarks for water and sewer improvements for Wasilla, and another $1 million for police equipment. Mayor Palin reviewed and signed the lobbyist’s report, dated April 5, 2000…

…Steve Silver, the Wasilla lobbyist, is a former top staffer for Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who now is under federal indictment for allegedly failing to disclose thousands of dollars in services he received from a company that helped renovate his Alaska home…

…In the lobbying documents, Silver also encourages Palin and other city officials to visit Washington, D.C….As the Alaska papers have reported, Palin took him up on the invitation and began making regular D.C. trips. “It was about being face to face with those who were actually writing the budget,” Palin told the Anchorage Daily News in 2006…

In response, the McCain campaign argued…

“She was working within the system that was set up.”

Well said.

Palin Not Kosher After All

Speaking of John Kerry, it seems like Sarah Palin and John McCain might be heading down the road of convoluted defenses that undermine a perceived strength. This is Sarah Palin reacting to questions about a $3.2 million earmark for studying seal DNA, despite otherwise staunch opposition to earmarks on the campaign trail, if not in her own state:

Those requests, through our research divisions and fish and game and our wildlife departments and our universities, those research requests did come through that system, but wanting it to be in the light of day, not behind closed doors, with lobbyists making deals with Congress to stick things in there under the public radar. That’s the abuse that we’re going to stop. That’s what John McCain has promised over and over for these years and that’s what I’m joining him, also, saying, you’re right, the abuse of earmarks, it’s un-American, it’s undemocratic, and it’s not going to be accepted in a McCain-Palin administration. Earmark abuse will stop.

So apparently, the problem isn’t with “government waste” per se, it’s a problem with the process through wich the “waste” is distributed. I have to say, this is largely at odds with John McCain’s assertion to veto “pork-barrel laden” bills and defame the guilty parties. I look forward to hearing explanations between good pork and bad pork for all of these during the debates.

La-La-Land

Palin: “We just put the government back on the side of the people.”

Given that Alaska receives $1.87 from the Federal government for every $1 it gives in taxes, I’m not sure the Alaskan government hasn’t always been on the side of the people. Also, what about that bridge to nowhere? Oh yeah, she a) took the money anyway and b) had previously campaigned on behalf of the bridge to nowhere.

And since she’s mentioning the windfall oil tax she fought hard for, that’s been part of Obama’s plan.

Just saying.