In (Brief) Defense of Earmarks.

Damian Paletta points out clues Obama left in his press conference yesterday on where he might be able to compromise with the new Republican House majority. One of them had to do with congressional earmarks:

Earmarks: Mr. Obama said that this is one area where he could definitely find common ground with certain Republicans. “You know, I’m a strong believer that the earmarking process in Congress isn’t what the American people really want to see when it comes to making tough decisions about how taxpayer dollars are spent,” he said.

He acknowledged that “in the rush to get things done” he’s had to sign “a bunch of bills” with earmarks and that this “was contrary to what I had talked about.” He talked about working with Rep. Eric Cantor (R., Va.) on a potential moratorium on certain earmarks going forward.

Earmarks are scorned by many members in both parties. Indeed, John Boehner has never asked for an earmark, so if there is anyone willing to entertain a compromise on the issue, it will probably be him. That said, House members are shooting themselves in the foot if they think that they will gain from eliminating or restricting earmarks.

For all of the disdain heaped on earmarks, they are one of the few ways a member of the House can directly benefit their district without signing on to the priorities of the majority leadership and the president. I'm not shocked that Obama would support curbs on earmarks; it's easier for him if Congress has fewer opportunities to meddle with his priorities. Of course, Congress has every right to meddle, and we -- the represented -- should want a certain degree of meddling, especially when it means that your district gets a new recreation center, or a new library, or money for job-producing grants. Yes, there's the occasional "bridge to nowhere," but by and large, earmarks go to good use and are worth the $17 billion we spent on them last year.

If House members want to disarm themselves, that's their choice. But they should know that it won't benefit them as much as they think.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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