I have mixed feelings about earmarks. I know that they are a popular symbol of congressional pork, wasteful spending, and all the rest, but I also know that, as a percentage of federal expenditures, they are small potatoes. Some part of them are payback for political favors. Some part of them are intended to help boost a local economy with unneeded projects that have little to do with sustained economic vitality. My own favorite targets are military earmarks for things the military does not want or need. But just as often, I think earmarks come from the wisdom of deeper knowledge about local needs that a member of congress has gained through close working relationships with community leaders. My community, for instance, benefits from small earmarks that are helping us plan for the completion of much needed highway improvements. Universities, especially Land Grant universities, benefit from earmarked grants that lead toward improvements in agriculture and agricultural products. Inner city neighborhood benefit from earmarked grants that help build cultural infrastructure. And so on.
I’m slightly amused by those who angrily harrumph about earmarks as if stopping them would balance the budget. It’s not just a naive harrumph, it’s ignorant. And let’s face it, there is something mildly amusing about harrumphing ignoramuses.
What helps is to be able to plainly see in the legislation both the earmarks and their sponsors. That way they are easily open to public scrutiny. If you are interested in taking a look for yourself, ardent earmark foe Senator Coburn of Oklahoma has published a database of earmarks in the current legislation. He may be one of the great harrumphers, but at least he’s not ignorant about it.