US News editor: You know what would fix Congress? Earmarks!

It’s a wonderful sign of how bright the future is under the new Republican majority when you see everyone willing to pitch in and offer some help with new ideas. Mitch McConnell and John Boehner probably won’t be able to keep up with the stream of suggestions coming in from all corners. In fact, they didn’t even have the new class sworn in before Robert Schlesinger at US News & World Report was already knocking on the door with his own recipe for success. Let’s see what he has to offer.

The holiday season has given way to the new year’s resolution season, a magical time when all things seem possible, from the personal (2015 is going to be the year I shed those 30 extra pounds – seriously for me) to the mundane (maybe the New York Jets will get a competent general manager this year) to the national – can the country’s leaders resolve to mobilize the mechanism of government once again?

I have a suggestion on that last item: This year, congressional leaders should resolve to dust off the pork barrel and bring back earmarking. I’m not talking about the gluttonous form of the practice where earmarks were seemingly passed around like hors d’oeuvres at a congressional Christmas party. The idea of “in all things moderation” is true, and it applies to both earmarks and their reforms.

Yes, this is just perfect. You know… the problem with the old system was that the gosh darned congressmen weren’t practicing “moderation” in their pork barrel spending. How could we have been so blind? We’ll just lift the ban, but this time we’ll send along a sternly worded letter to everyone letting them know to not get carried away and be moderate in their spending. What could possibly go wrong?

And if it all has that icky sound of crony corruption, not to worry. Bob has that all covered too.

If that kind of mutual back-scratching seems grubby, well that’s politics – and that’s politics how it is supposed to work. And the Halleck example dramatically demonstrates another point about this sort of spending: Earmarks weren’t simply grease for leadership to move bills through; they helped ameliorate one of the fundamental tensions of our republican democracy: the need for lawmakers to balance national and parochial interests. A member might cast a vote that’s right for the country but politically unpopular in his own district, but if he can also point to a day care center, a bridge and new jobs at the local university as the bacon he’s brought home, it might buy him room to vote his conscience.

In that one short paragraph, Schlesinger inadvertently points out one of the worst, most poisonous aspects of the earmark system. (It should be noted that liberals view this as far more of a feature than a bug.) It’s really not the amount of spending involved. (Which is bad, but not all that huge compared to the real problems such as entitlement programs.) The argument you see above is that pork barrel spending gives the members the opportunity to vote for something that’s right for the country but politically unpopular in their own district. But don’t worry about that, voters… you’ve got a brand new fish hatchery out of the deal!

What the author fails to note is that the entire country didn’t elect the member of the House or even the Senate. The people in their home district elected them, and they didn’t send them to Washington to enact “unpopular” legislation. They are supposed to have a representative. Mr. Schlesinger seems to fail to grasp the meaning of that word.

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