by Russ Roberts on March 11, 2009

in Politics

From the Washington Post, no commentary necessary:

President Obama today announced guidelines aimed at curbing the number
of pet projects in appropriations bills, setting up a potential battle
with lawmakers who have clung to the spending items known as earmarks.

Obama called on Congress to enact a series of reforms that he said
would not eliminate earmarks but would force lawmakers to be more
transparent about them and would crack down on those that benefit
private companies. He said it "should go without saying that an earmark
should never, ever be traded for political favors."

Speaking in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the
White House, Obama said he would sign a $410 billion omnibus spending
bill that was passed by the Senate yesterday, even though it contains
more than 8,500 of the pet projects.

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Oil Shock March 11, 2009 at 1:39 pm
ben March 11, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Obama: hypocrite.

tw March 11, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Obama did the same thing with the stimulus bill a few weeks ago.

His take then was that the economy was so dire that the bill had to be passed quickly….and that for all future bills, he'd make sure that there were no more earmarks.

Now, another spending bill with more earmarks, and again, Obama is saying he needs to sign it immediately….and that for all future bills, he'll work hard to make sure there were no more earmarks.

I'd ask just whom he thinks he's fooling, but I'm afraid that, along with most of the media, a lot of people are being fooled.

a March 11, 2009 at 1:54 pm

The article linked below needs to be fixed (I'm blocked, can someone else do it?) :

"Most economists question the Austrian explanation because it completely ignores the possibility of an extended recession."

Caliban Darklock March 11, 2009 at 3:01 pm

It's the way the game is played.

Right now, earmarks are a large part of how work gets done in Congress. That's the game. You either play by those rules, or you lose. If you need twenty more votes for your massively important legislation (and if it's yours, of COURSE it's massively important), you can effectively "buy" those votes by letting twenty other Congressmen pork the bill. You whore out your greater cause, because otherwise it doesn't happen, and compromises need to be made.

Obama wants to change the rules, and has already put his money where his mouth is on that score. It doesn't happen overnight, and in between "we will change the rules" and "the rules are changed", everything is still happening under the old rules. And whether he likes those rules or not, he either plays by them in the interim, or he loses.

As a conservative, I don't have a problem with that, because transparency in government is fundamentally a conservative agenda. The libertarians should also be happy with the idea. The liberals, honestly… I can't believe they're supporting it at all. The big lie on Capitol Hill is that it's the conservative "old boy" network that is so corrupt and double-dealing, but we've never been happy about it – we've just been slow to change it because we're not convinced the alternatives aren't worse. It's well past the point that someone needed to stand up and say "screw the risk", and it took a liberal to do that.

See? We know we can't get certain things done by ourselves. We understand the need for liberals. But as they say, there is a stupid party and an evil party, and I am proud to be a member of the stupid party.

vikingvista March 11, 2009 at 3:21 pm

"should go without saying that an earmark should never, ever be traded for political favors."

I guess votes don't count as political favors.

STS March 11, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Given a huge government spending bill, who do you think is less corrupt, a legislator who secures an earmark if prior open disclosure is required, or the faceless bureaucrat who approves the bill's projects, grants and spending? As much as I dislike the earmarks, the bureaucrat may be worse.

LowcountryJoe March 11, 2009 at 4:00 pm

"should go without saying that an earmark should never, ever be traded for political favors."

Is this even happening? I refuse to believe that our elected do-gooders (as long as they're of the caring Democrat vareity) would engage in such behavior. I think that president Obama is just looking for another body of people to blame — surely the folks in congress represent us well through a muirgeo-friendly pluralistic society.

DAVE March 11, 2009 at 6:05 pm

funny how obama says today that the spending will be imperfect. imperfect? government?? imperfect?
wait a minute, wasn't that the whole problem with the market?

DAVE March 11, 2009 at 6:39 pm

for one thing, this was the change i had believed in!

The Other Eric March 13, 2009 at 3:10 pm

STS, the faceless bureaucrat is ALWAYS worse.

I always thought of earmarks as a massive signaling mechanism that can be tracked over time to see if congress is accurately reflecting the will of the populace. The media, and political parties, have just never expended the energy to open up 10-20 years of budgets, spread out the earmarks and costs, and matched them up with priorities taken from national and regional polls.

By definition it can't be wasteful spending if, year after year, most people want spending on cancer research or NASA or whatever and that's what congress has spent money on. It would be refreshing to see the contrary– e.g. most of the US doesn't like smoking but Congress spends how much on tobacco export incentives, tobacco farm relief, tobacco museums, etc.?

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