Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walked back his earlier support for earmarks and joined Jim DeMint in the Tea Party crusade to end legislative pork:
Make no mistake. I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state. I don’t apologize for them. But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight. And unless people like me show the American people that we’re willing to follow through on small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on our broader efforts to cut spending and rein in government.
That’s why today I am announcing that I will join the Republican Leadership in the House in support of a moratorium on earmarks in the 112th Congress.
This is one of the few times when I'll say that Mitch McConnell was right; I made this point a few weeks ago, but earmarks are one of the few ways in which a member of Congress can directly benefit his district without interference from the president. Abuse notwithstanding, they are an instrument for parochial advantage, which -- if you're a fan of Madison -- is a good thing.
With that in mind, it's ironic that the call for banning earmarks has come from the radical, "repeal the 17th Amendment!" wing of the Republican Party. If there's anyone in politics who would be invested in protecting their institutional prerogative against the president, it would be the self-proclaimed "originalists" who worship at the altar of the Founders (and save some affection for Andrew Jackson as well). As it stands, an earmark ban would save very little (about $17 billion), and cede most of Congress' spending authority to the president, which is why the White House has been nothing but supportive of this move.
That said, there is a way in which this is perfectly consistent with Tea Party views. Remember, for the Tea Party, government is only a problem when it redistributes wealth to other people. Tea Partiers support spending for themselves (like Medicare) and are unconcerned with actual government abuses, like Bush-era torture, and the gradual erosion of civil liberties. They -- like most Republicans -- are unambiguous supporters of presidential authority. Their opposition to earmarks doesn't fit with their principles, but it is consistent with their second-order view of things.
-- Jamelle Bouie