Debra J. Saunders

Meanwhile, the Senate has no restrictions on earmarks. The Senate, you may recall, appropriated more than $200 million for Alaska's infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" when Republican Sen. Ted Stevens represented the state.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama pledged to reduce earmarks to less than $7.8 billion, the level where they were before 1994. Despite budgeting a whopping $3.6 trillion in federal spending this year, however, Obama and House Democrats can't shake the necessary pennies from the earmark piggy bank.

And Obama is just plain wrong that $16.5 billion is such a paltry sum that it does not make a difference. As Schatz noted, "When a member of Congress who might otherwise be fiscally conservative gets an earmark, the chairman of the committee will say, 'I'll give you an earmark if you support my bill.'" Thus, a $100,000 earmark for the local opera house turns into a vote for an omnibus spending bill in the billions.

Allow me to note that Obama and Schatz like to use 1994 -- the year the Republicans took over Congress, but President Bill Clinton retained veto power -- as a benchmark. Yet according to CAGW's own numbers, earmarks rose from $3.1 billion in 1991 -- the year of the first pig book -- to $6.6 billion in 1993, when Democrats controlled the White House, House and Senate. Define earmarks as a GOP-fueled phenomenon at your own risk.

In a recent town hall meeting, Obama returned to his earmarks-as-small-change rhetoric when he noted, "Earmarks, you know, pork projects, what everybody calls pork, those account for about 1 percent of the budget."

The problem is that if Washington cannot cut pet projects, then Washington cannot cut anything. If Washington cannot tell the paper industry to pay for its own "wood utilization research," then Washington cannot say no to any special interest.

And if Washington can appropriate what CAGW described as "35 anonymous projects worth $6 billion" in the 2010 Defense Appropriations Act despite new rules that are supposed to deliver complete transparency, then the rules mean nothing.

McClintock described earmarks as inherently "unworthy projects" because they bypass the competitive process. But "even if there is such a thing as a good earmark, the price invariably is all the other earmarks that" are not good.

Unfortunately, that's a price Congress has been all too willing to pay -- because, well, Congress doesn't have to pay it.

Debra J. Saunders

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