GOVERNORS CAN’T ‘VETO’ EARMARKS…. Watch as we slip further down the rabbit hole.

McCain cut off a question about the “Bridge to Nowhere,” which Palin claims to have killed in Alaska even though Washington pulled back money for the project before she turned against it.

“The important thing is she’s vetoed a half a billion dollars in earmark projects — far, far in excess of her predecessor and she’s given money back to the taxpayers and she’s cut their taxes, so I’m happy with her record,” McCain said.

In addition to her current requests, state budget documents show Alaska requested 52 earmarks worth $256 million for 2008.

Every day for weeks, the McCain campaign has made Sarah Palin’s position on the infamous Bridge to Nowhere one of the key selling points of her candidacy. Now, when the AP brings up the McCain campaign’s up-until-recently favorite talking point, McCain doesn’t want to hear the question, and doesn’t want to address the subject.

But it was just as striking to hear McCain insist that Palin “vetoed a half a billion dollars in earmark projects.” How’s that, exactly? Congress puts earmarks in the budget; the president signs the spending into law; and states get the earmarked funds. Governors can’t “veto” earmarks anymore than I can. Palin could stop asking for earmarks (but she didn’t, asking for a quarter of a billion dollars in earmarks just this year) and Palin could send unspent taxpayer money back to Congress (but she didn’t, keeping every earmarked penny she could get her hands on). Those are her choices.

On this, McCain isn’t just lying, he’s lying about something that literally couldn’t be true.

The entire pitch is just ridiculous. McCain is either so confused about the federal spending process that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or he’s lying furiously to try to get out of a jam.

I’m afraid it has to be one or the other.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.