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December, 9th 2010

Oh great... conservative House GOPers want earmarks after all

– Liz Mair

From Politico:

After agreeing to kill earmarks, some of the most conservative GOP lawmakers are already starting to ask themselves: What have we done? 

Indeed, many Republicans are now worried that the bridges in their districts won’t be fixed, the tariff relief to the local chemical company isn’t coming and the water systems might not be built without a little direction from Congress. 

So some Republicans are discussing exemptions to the earmark ban, allowing transportation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and water projects. While transportation earmarks are probably the most notorious — think “Bridge to Nowhere” — there is talk about tweaking the very definition of “earmark.” 

[...]

Conservatives like Roe, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Iowa Rep. Steve King are among those trying to figure out a longer-term, sustainable way to get money back to projects in their districts. 

“This isn’t trying to be too cute by half of what is an earmark and what isn’t,” Bachmann told POLITICO on Wednesday. “But we have to address the issue of how are we going to fund transportation projects across the country?” 

[...]

Bachmann says Congress should exempt “roads, bridges and interchanges” and recommends that if a town, city, county or state approves a project, a lawmaker in Washington should be able to submit a request — a practice she says she has followed. 

Great.  Nice to see Michele Bachmann, that supposed arch-conservative, both going to bat for more transportation funding (because there wasn't plenty of spending directed at transportation-related concerns in the stimulus bill she and I both loathe) and pushing earmarks.

Here's my question: Aside from the obvious flip-floppery and effort to facilitate rhetorical gymnastics going on here, why are people who supposedly are for rebalancing power away from the federal government to local jurisdictions keen to tap the federal coffers to pay for what are very frequently purely local projects?  Note that Bachmann references not just bridges connecting Minnesota to Wisconsin (she cites that further in the article) but "roads, bridges and interchanges" if a "town, city, county or state" approves a project-- something that to my mind indicates she's concerned not just about funding transportation projects where there is an interstate element, but actually where the project is purely local-- and where I would argue it should therefore be funded out of local revenue.

This is the kind of thing I would more typically expect to hear from my earmark-happy congresscritter, Jim Moron.  It is dismaying that Republicans aren't even back in power and we have someone who is supposedly one of the most "principled" conservatives of the lot advocating Congress earmarking federal dollars for local transportation projects.

UPDATE: Erick Erickson basically agrees, though takes it one step further than I in saying "the real solution [with regard to transportation funding], and it doesn’t have to be on the long-term horizon if conservatives put their mind to it, is to have the federal government get out of the highway business and devolve it back to the States on federalism principles. "  

My only query with that is where actual interstates are concerned, for example, I-5 as it runs from Southern Washington into Northern Oregon, a stretch heavily used by commuters from both states, which incidentally have rather different taxation structures.  I'm not sure I'd care to see the results of an apportionment of expenditure argument as between those two, so while I like Erick's argument for philosophical reasons, there are instances where I could see it hitting a bump in the road if we attempted to implement it.  That said, as I argue above, there's really no justification for spending federal money on local roads projects... which should be funded out of local revenue.  And that's the main point for me, given what Bachmann actually is quoted as saying in the Politico piece. [intro]

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