Friday, September 12, 2008

Earmarks vs Pork

One of the strangest themes of John McCain's campaign is his crusade against earmarks.

Congress exists to write and pass laws, yes. But another important job is to take taxpayers' money and divvy it up in appropriate ways, to determine how this money can most effectively be spent. We voters send our representatives and senators to Congress to fight for our piece of that pie. This is how Congress works; this is how Congress was intended to work. Specifically, "under Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the power to direct appropriations of money drawn from the national treasury. This includes the power to "earmark" funds it appropriates to specifically designated projects."

An "earmark" is just a piece of tax pie that Congress decides will be set aside for a particular program or project. Earmarks help fund all manner of projects, from public transportation to education and research. The Iraq Study Group was funded through earmarks. Earmarks can also be used for the national infrastructure like, oh, I don't know, let's say...umm...levees in New Orleans and, um, bridges in Minneapolis. Not incidentally, all of our aid to Israel is earmarked. Is John McCain really opposing aid for Israel?

Now, let's be honest: Congress is not infallible. Sometimes they screw up. Sometimes they want to fund projects for political purposes that will cost the taxpayers more than they will yield in public benefit; that's not an earmark, that's pork.

In the second part of her interview with ABC's Charles Gibson that will air tonight, Governor Palin will say this: "And it's not inappropriate for a mayor or for a governor to request and to work with their Congress and their congressmen, their congresswomen, to plug into the federal budget along with every other state a share of the federal budget for infrastructure."

That's right. That is one of the main responsibilities of Congress. No argument from me.

But this statement comes in response to a reasonable question about her repeated claim to have "told Congress thanks, but no thanks, on that Bridge to Nowhere."

The plain fact of the matter is that Congress stripped the earmark of funds for the bridge in November 2005.

Sarah Palin did not become Governor of Alaska until 2007.

In fact, as she campaigned in late 2006, she expressed support for the bridge.

The first time Sarah Palin told Congress "thanks, but no thanks," was at the Republican National Convention in August 2008, almost three years after the bridge became a national laughingstock.

That's not change you can believe in.
But wait, this gets better. Recently McCain and Palin accused Barack Obama of requesting "nearly $1 billion" in earmarks for the state of Illinois. But Obama has requested no earmarks for 2008, and in 2007 only $311 million, which works out to $25 per Illinois resident.

This year, Sarah Palin asked Congress for $198 million in earmarks. That's $295 per Alaska citizen. In 2007, she requested $256 million. While she was mayor of the tiny town of Wasilla, she hired a Jack Abramoff-affiliated lobbyist and secured "14 earmarks totaling $27 million."

Here are some sterling examples of recent Alaska "earmarks."

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