EARMARKS….So now John McCain is flatly saying that Sarah Palin has never requested an earmark? That’s just….confused.

Oops, sorry, confused is a code word for “old,” so strike that. What I meant is that he’s fibbing because he knows that a huge TV audience will hear what he said and that only about 1% of them will ever see or hear the correction.

But as long as we’re on the subject, the infamous Bridge to Nowhere is a pretty good example of why this self-righteous nonsense about earmarks is so annoying. It’s true that Congress killed the BtN, but this didn’t save the American taxpayers a nickel. Sarah Palin just took the money and used it for other Alaska projects. And that’s the way all earmarks work: they’re simply ways of directing spending. The actual amount of spending is set elsewhere, and it doesn’t usually change whether or not any of it is earmarked.

In other words, even aside from the fact that earmarks don’t add up to an awful lot of money, killing them wouldn’t appreciably change spending levels anyway. The real question is whether members of Congress should have some direct say in where money is spent in their states and districts, or whether federal bureaucrats should make all those decisions. There are actually pretty good arguments on both sides. The bureaucrats have a better sense of the big picture but members of Congress have a better sense of what local residents really care about. Bureaucrats are less likely to be corrupt but members of Congress are less likely to make decisions with only a shallow knowledge of local conditions. And both sides are probably about equally likely to waste money on idiotic boondoggles.

Personally, I don’t care much about earmarks, but to the extent I do, these are the grounds for debate. Not total spending. If I had my way I’d simply set aside a fixed amount for earmarks in transportation and infrastructure bills (say, 2-3% of the total) and then sit back safe in the knowledge that local residents have some direct say in how local money is spent, but that the vast majority will be spent in ways that make sense on a larger regional/national basis. But I’m just dreaming.


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