WASHINGTON — One day after House Democrats proposed banning earmarks to for-profit companies, House Republicans upped the ante by self-imposing a one-year moratorium on appropriations earmarks, a move one local analyst called a “strategic calculation” that they’ll pick up enough political goodwill to offset the complaints from local leaders back home who were hoping for that money.
Rep. John Kline, Minnesota’s senior Republican in Congress was elated, calling today an “historic day in Congress and certainly a day that is long overdue.”
“For years, I have called for an earmark moratorium because it is the only way to wipe the slate clean and allow us to start getting spending under control by fundamentally changing the process by which Congress spends American taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” Kline said. “Washington needs to earn back the sacred trust of the American people, and today’s vote supporting an earmark moratorium is the first step in the right direction.”
Earmarks are the sort of thing that are often politically unpopular generally, but wildly popular in to the folks directly affected. For example, Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere” was widely derided as an example of an earmarking system run amok, but one can only assume the city leaders in Faribault enjoyed the $150,000 they got in the 2010 budget for wastewater treatment improvements.
Kathryn Pearson, a University of Minnesota political science professor who studies Congress, noted that the Republicans’ plans to not request earmarks won’t decrease the size of appropriations bills. Instead, whatever money isn’t allotted by earmarks will be spent by federal administrators according to their own funding formulas.
While she said few (if any) individual voters are likely to flip and vote Republican over this one issue, “it fits into the [Republican] strategy of attacking the way majority-party Democrats run Congress.”
Ironically enough, while House Republicans might benefit politically from rejecting earmarks, Pearson said Rep. Tim Walz could see some political benefit from not just taking earmarks but this year making an open process of it. Walz posted the 98 earmark requests he got on his website and asked constituents to write in with the reasons they support or oppose any given project.
“I think this helps Walz really display the benefits of earmarks for projects in his district,” Pearson said.
Minnesota might not see that much change from the House GOP’s move unless Democrats agree to join them (and there are no such signs that they will). Kline is one of the leading Republicans fighting earmarks and thus doesn’t request any. Neither does Rep. Michele Bachmann. Rep. Erik Paulsen has, however he got only one earmark in 2010 (for $400,000) that wasn’t also requested by another member of Congress.
Instead, Pearson said local leaders in those three Republican districts will simply go through their two Democratic senators for earmarks. Just like they did in Faribault.
Since Kline doesn’t bid for earmarks, local leaders in Faribault asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar for help securing the wastewater treatment money. She requested and received the earmark. And so it goes.