Tuesday, October 30, 2007

No foul for Murtha in earmark game

By Libby

I'm long on the record in criticizing earmarks, and believe it's in the best interests of our country to eliminate them entirely, but the WSJ's hit piece on John Murtha is truly a prime example of cherrypicking quotes to advance a narrative. Just as the GOP does corruption bigger and better, the fringe-wing blog mobs take cherrypicking and turn it into an art form of deceit. Here's the quotes they conveniently omitted from their little blogswarm this morning. [All emphasis mine.]

Since Democrats took control of Congress this year, they've reversed the huge growth under Republican rule of earmarks -- narrow, special-interest items that are added to the budget with little public scrutiny, sidestepping the usual competitive-bidding process. In the House, the value of earmarks in all pending budget bills is an estimated $5.6 billion, down by about half from last year, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. Horse-trading in the House-Senate conference later this week could change the earmark totals.

Mr. Murtha, too, cut his overall earmarks in the House defense-spending bill, a spokesman says. His earmarks in the current bill are $166.5 million, more than any other House member, Taxpayers for Common Sense says. Mr. Murtha's spokesman did not dispute this year's total, but said without providing details that it is down by half from last year. Prior to this year, earmarks couldn't precisely be counted because Congress didn't release comprehensive figures.

There's no evidence that Mr. Murtha personally profits from the hometown spending he rams through Congress. He ranked No. 333 in net worth among the 435 members of the House in a 2005 analysis by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. But his campaign coffers have risen since he became chairman of the defense-spending panel. In the first nine months of this year, Mr. Murtha's campaign committees have reported contributions of more than $1.05 million.

The last fact being easily explained by the Democrats greater fundraising in general this cycle. Murtha didn't invent earmarks. He's an old school pol who used them to better his district and has done so more honestly than most. This quote however, cuts to the heart of what's the matter with earmarks.

Mr. Murtha isn't likely to leave office soon. He was re-elected in 2006 with 69% of the vote; in 2002, he won with 74%. Local Republicans didn't field a candidate to run against him in 2004. Part of his support, no doubt, is self-interest: Voters know that no freshman challenger can match Mr. Murtha's ability to bring home bacon.

This is how the earmark system functions as a defacto incumbency protection racquet. In fact, this is one big reason why Joe Lieberman managed to eke out his victory in the last election. Leaving aside his assuring bromides about ending the occupation to placate the anti-war crowd that tossed him out in the primary, the reason I saw cited most often on local CT discussion boards was that he brought home the bacon from DC that provided the jobs at the big defense contractors in the state. People will ignore the national interest in favor of their own wallet.

If we want to repair what's broken in the system, removing this variable from the dynamic would go a long way towards opening up the field to those candidates that put the public interest above their political careers and to spending decisions that benefit the national interest over local re-election strategies.

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