The GOP discovers its distaste for earmarks

THE GOP DISCOVERS ITS DISTASTE FOR EARMARKS…. Am I the only one who finds this odd?

House Democratic leaders on Wednesday banned budget earmarks to private industry, ending a practice that has steered billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to companies and set off corruption scandals.

The ban is the most forceful step yet in a three-year effort in Congress to curb abuses in the use of earmarks, which allow individual lawmakers to award financing for pet projects to groups and businesses, many of them campaign donors.

But House Republicans, in a quick round of political one-upmanship, tried to outmaneuver Democrats by calling for a ban on earmarks across the board, not just to for-profit companies. Republicans, who expect an intra-party vote on the issue Thursday, called earmarks “a symbol of a broken Washington.”

Both parties are seeking to claim the ethical high ground on the issue by racing to rein in a budgeting practice that has become rife with political influence peddling.

As a rule, I think the anti-earmark crusade can get a little excessive. The earmarking process is sometimes abused, and sometimes legitimate. Banning the practice altogether is probably unnecessary.

That said, congressional Republicans want to position themselves as the party that hates earmarks more? What a strange claim. It was, after all, a GOP House majority that nearly quadrupled the number of earmarks during their rule, from 4,000 earmarks in 1994 to 15,000 in 2005. If Republicans hated earmarks so much, why didn’t they do something about them when they were in the majority, instead of making the “problem” worse.

Indeed, 10 GOP leaders issued a statement yesterday, declaring earmarks a “symbol of a broken Washington,” and calling for their elimination. These same 10 Republicans requested over $240 million in earmarks since 2008.

Oops.

Chances are, this anti-earmark push isn’t going to get too far — the Senate isn’t fond of the idea. But in either case, it’s striking to see the earmark-loving Republican Party pretending to turn over a new leaf. I suppose the only folks who can take the GOP’s grandstanding seriously are those a) with very short memories; or b) with no access to Google.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Steve Benen

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.