Bring Back Earmarks!


Atrios wants to bring back earmarks:

Giving members of Congress a few nice things (sometimes corrupt, sometimes not) for their districts is a way actually get things done. There’s nothing wrong with members trying to bring the pork back to their districts. We should stop seeing this as inherently problematic.

I agree. Political horsetrading may be distasteful in the abstract, but in reality it’s the way compromises get forged, human nature being what it is in our sadly fallen state. So if you want to get things done, you need trading chits like earmarks.

But there’s more to it than that. The truth is that, within reason, legislators should have the power to direct money to their districts. They’re supposedly the ones who know their districts best, after all. The key thing to keep in mind is that sometimes there are projects that are really important to locals that just aren’t ever going to pass muster with DC bureaucrats who, for good and appropriate reasons, score spending requests largely via formula. This leads to understandable frustration with how tax dollars are being spent. Earmarks are a relief valve, a way of giving a bit of local control over federal spending to locals themselves, who can spend it as they see fit. It might not be the way you or I would spend it, but that’s OK.

I think there was a justified sense during the aughts that earmarks had gotten out of control. Unfortunately, we overreacted. They probably needed to be scaled back, but they shouldn’t have been eliminated. Earmarks represent a bit of local control over tax dollars that’s basically salutary in modest doses.

Oh, and they don’t have any effect on overall spending, either. Earmarks redirect spending, they don’t increase it.

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