Along with a choice few Democrats, including not-so-moderate Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Republicans in the Senate are delaying the passage of the Omnibus spending act because it “is too big” and includes “too many earmarks.” The bill will fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year 2009.
The legislation, $410 billion in size, has about $7 billion of earmarks: I detailed the transit examples a week ago.
What’s ironic about GOP opposition is that a huge percentage of the earmarks they claim to despise come from their own offices. What’s sad about their opposition to earmarks is that most of it’s based on unthinking criticism of projects with names that sound stupid – even if they’re actually quite reasonable.
But what’s more significantly wrong about this stand against federal government spending is that it’s completely nonsensical. During a deep recession, the only entity that has the power to encourage the economy’s development is the national government, working through deficit spending. When private industry has lost all hope in the market and is unwilling to take risks to get the economy moving again, it must be the government that puts its deck into the game. There is no reason to believe that the federal government not paying for the projects it has on its budget would somehow help the economy – if anything, doing so would encourage the financial system to fall apart even more.
Whether we like the sound of it or not, the federal government has a responsibility to spend huge amounts of money – whether in earmarks or not – simply because no one else is doing so. Acting like the government has no role in salvaging the economy is a ridiculous and unsustainable proposition.
Clarification: Lest I seem an unambiguous defender of earmarks, let me say that I’m not… the policy of adding on appropriations seemingly randomly to bills doesn’t make any sense. That said, no one is proposing an alternative funding solution for small projects that can’t find money anywhere else. We need another system to ensure that small programs around the nation can be funded, and until we have such a system, we’re going to keep needing earmarks.