First steps are the hardest
Posted by aogMonday, 28 January 2008 at 14:18 TrackBack Ping URL

Let’s give President Bush credit for things he does right, and his executive order to disregard non-legislative earmarks is clearly an excellent action. I salute him.

There are those who say earmark reform is a waste of time, since the overall amounts of money are trivial on the scale of the federal budget. The latter is true, but I subscribe to the “broken windows” theory of government spending. It’s not the earmarks of themselves, but the tone that abuse of them sets. Advancing the idea that government spending can be bad, to a broad range of the American Street, isn’t sufficient, but it certainly is a very welcome first step.

%{color:red;}%UPDATE%: Naturally, I wrote too soon. It appears that this Executive Order won’t affect the current unlegislated earmarks, but only future ones, by which time it will have been overturned by the next President. The party affiliation of that President will make no difference to the repeal, but I think it clear that a GOP President will pay a much higher cost in political capital than a Democratic Party one, which means that Bush will have left a political trap that will only spring on a member of his own party. Not exactly building up his legacy.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
Brad S Monday, 28 January 2008 at 20:19

So you’d consider the earmark (which, after all, is a committment to spend) to fund rebuilding some highway in South Dakota (I’m a proud native) something akin to a condition that exacerbates high crime? Helping a community obtain funds for something that, in most cases, helps community betterment creates a tone of abuse of earmarks?

I just want to know how you keep your nose in the air while looking down on mere heathen like my fellow South Dakotans for striving to improve their communities.

Annoying Old Guy Monday, 28 January 2008 at 20:53

No. I consider that small, unopposed acts lead to more of the same, if there’s something in it for the actor.

As for my nose, I am not the one asking others for money, as you seem to be. I certainly have nothing against South Dakotans string to improve their communities. When the South Dakotans want a slice of my tax money, then I start to get a bit more concerned. If the betterment really justifies federal intervention, which we all know really means money from taxpayers in other states, then it should be done through explicit legislation that is voted on by the legislative representatives of all the states. My reading of your comment is that you object to that, i.e. you object to people of other states controlling how much of their tax money is spent in South Dakota. I just want to know how you keep your nose in the air while demanding others pay for your betterment without recourse.

Gronker Monday, 28 January 2008 at 22:35

Actually, I’ll say I’m against your SD road earmark, 100%. And that the congressional backroom wrangling that went into getting you that earmark is indeed tantamount to theft. There are national road programs where each state gets is share of money for roads. Each state determines its allocation of that money in an up-front, transparent way.

Why your Senator should be able to make backroom deals to vote on something not in your interests to give you a road with public money, thereby buying your vote? I would think that you would be just as outraged by this kind of situation.

I keep my nose in the air only when something really stinks, like earmarks.

Brad S Tuesday, 29 January 2008 at 07:15


Those dirty “backroom deals” have been an effective way of getting member’s votes on key issues ever since at least Andrew Jackson’s time. I get extremely angry when I see my fellow conservatives use loser anti-earmark arguments as a means of showing the rest of us who is morally pure. I just wonder who certain people think they are when they tell their own best supporters they can’t be rewarded for a job well done and that their requests are some form of “moral hazard.”

As far as whether or not my home state of South Dakota deserves a slice of your precious tax money, I would humbly submit to you that if the nation is getting large percentages of South Dakota’s youth (SD leads the nation in percentage of high school grads going to the armed forces), the least you could do is send a few bucks back.

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 29 January 2008 at 11:10


You might want to take a look at a graph of the number of earmarks per year, and then see if you still want to claim that it’s the same thing as it was in Jackson’s time.

I also don’t remember making claims about morality. My claims were about proper governance and winning elections. If the GOP is to be the party of fiscal responsibility, it must at a minimum look like such a party. The wild explosion of earmarking is not only precisely the wrong image, but it (IMHO) encourages other, far more significant monetary extravagances.

I also made no judgement on whether South Dakota deserves a slice of my tax money, only whether I deserved having my elected representative vote on the matter. You might want to check the Executive Order, which doesn’t affect earmarks that are properly legislated, it stops only those that are not.

cjm Tuesday, 29 January 2008 at 16:10

even though i only have a single data point, people in SD seem to have an inordinate amount of defensiveness regarding the charity they receive/demand from the rest of the country. “south dakota, where small minded people go to complain”. it says a lot (little ?) about the place that some dinky road works boondoggle gets your ire up so. maybe tomorrow something interesting like a 3 legged dog crossing the road will happen, and you can watch it on the local news.

Bret Tuesday, 29 January 2008 at 19:36

Gronker wrote: “And that the congressional backroom wrangling that went into getting you that earmark is indeed tantamount to theft. There are national road programs where each state gets is share of money for roads.

Earmarks are theft, but national road programs are not? I’m at a loss to see the difference. In either case, money is taken from me to build roads for others.

Gronker Tuesday, 29 January 2008 at 23:10

The difference is that the federal road programs are debated by congress and usually are distributed, in rough numbers, but the states contributions to the federal coffers. There are cases where other issues come into play, such as national parks and infrastructure that benifits entire regions. In these cases, SD does pretty well already. In any case, the funds are distributed in a fair, transparent way based on NATIONAL interest.

Backroom earmarking is the antithesis of this kind of distribution. Some congressman wants a program that he cannot get on its merits and usually trades away his vote on something ELSE that is not in the national interests to get this earmark. So its trading two things (usually ALOT more than two) which are not in the national interest to get voter bribery money. Its wrong, and in my mind, theft.

I am a governmental minimalist. I think the government should get out of the charity and insurance businesses, immediately. But I do believe that the infrastructure of the US is something that fits the role of government I can support. As long as the federal programs are created and funded based on federal interests. States can tax and spend their own funds for projects of local interest.

Hope this makes sense to you.

Bret Tuesday, 29 January 2008 at 23:59


I understand that the processes for earmarks and other legislation are distinct, but I still think it’s a distinction without a difference. In the end, either way, money is taken out of some people’s pockets and spent for the benefit of others. You can either call it theft or not, or you can get behind it or not, whether or not it’s an earmark or other legislated appropriation. Brad S thinks the earmarks are fine, you think they’re not but officially legislated funds are fine. Okay, but it seems a bit arbitrary to me.

Do you think you’re not being bribed when the politicians are going to bring road infrastructure to your area? Do you think there are no backroom deals and favors being traded over the national highway program and defense and education and and and…? There’s no reason the roads couldn’t be sold and operated and maintained privately, you know. It’s all just subjective preference.

It’s theft if you don’t like the program and a good federal program if you do like it. In my experience, most people feel that way, and I don’t have a problem with it. I just find it kinda funny.

Gronker Wednesday, 30 January 2008 at 12:30

The distinction is actually very clear. Earmarks are seldom in the NATIONAL interest, whereas Federal programs are more likely to be. Earmarks, especially the ones we are talking about in the context of this presidential action, are slipped into bills without ever being voted upon. They are slid in after conference without debate or vote. These are the ones I (and most people) have the biggest issue with.

I do not like taxes. I think they should be minmized to only programs that are demostrably only in the national interest. National defense, lawmaking, border protection, trade and foriegn relations, and, yes, roads and infrastucture. And I also feel strongly that this list of federal responsibilities needs to be limited national interest test. If some program benifits one segment of the country (geographic region, profession, race, ethnicity, etc) it should be canned. Redistribution on wealth is evil.

So, to review: Federal spending voted on in public whose benifit is national in scope: good. Federal spending whose benifit is only local in scope, especially when its not voted on: bad.

Bret Wednesday, 30 January 2008 at 13:49

Just note that many think that redistribution is in the national interest (keeps the peace, prevents revolutions, etc.). For those who believe that, earmarks may qualify.

Annoying Old Guy Wednesday, 30 January 2008 at 14:27

But that’s just the flip side of my point in the original post — if we start with “earmarks bad”, perhaps we can extend that to redistribution in general, since the underlying logic is very similar. But, as far as I can see, if you are going to go up against something that has broad if shallow support like redistribution, you need to start with the more egregious examples and move the boundary of accepted practice gradually.

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