The Times Sticks Up for Earmarks Again

The issue of congressional earmarks - provisions that lawmakers insert into unrelated legislation directing money to a particular project in their district - tends to split along party lines, with Republicans in favor of elimination or reform and Democrats defending the spending.

On Tuesday, reporter Jennifer Steinhauer provided another defense of earmarks, or at least some of them, in "Lawmakers' End of Earmarks Affects Local Programs Large and Small." The text box emphasized the most useful-sounding projects under threat: "Money for roads, shelters and other projects goes away."

Gone for now are the likes of the taxpayer-financed teapot museum, or studies on the mating habits of crabs.

But also shelved are a project to help consolidate information about warrants in Brazos County, Tex., and staffing for two new shelters for abused women and children in Salt Lake City. A rural Wisconsin county will not be able to upgrade its communication system, and a road in Kentucky will not be widened next year.

Across the country, local governments, nonprofit groups and scores of farmers, to name but a few, are waking up to the fact that when Congress stamped out earmarks last week, it was talking about their projects, too.

Tensions are particularly acute in districts where new conservative lawmakers, many of whom criticized throughout their campaigns the practice of quietly inserting earmarks into spending bills, are coming face to face with local governments and interest groups who were counting on federal dollars to help shore up their own collapsing budgets.


But there's the rub. With President Obama proposing a five-year freeze on domestic spending, and the Republican-controlled House vowing to cut spending in federal agencies by hundreds of millions of dollars, it almost certain that every agency will have far less money to spend on thousands of legitimate projects that were approved after extensive review. Simply put, without earmarks to turn to, far more applicants will be scrambling for a smaller pot of grant money.

The result? Scores of lawmakers are going to find themselves explaining to the people back home why their bridges will not be finished, their rape-victim programs canceled before they started, their federal requirements ignored. As Ms. Fitzgerald said of Mr. Duffy, "He definitely is going to be hearing from us."

This isn't the first time a Times reporter has defended or at least dismissed the significance of earmark reform.

Reporter David Herszenhorn made this argument on November 17, 2010: "While earmarks amount to a trickle in the government's flood of red ink - slightly more than three-tenths of 1 percent of federal spending - most of that money would still be expended by federal agencies in the absence of earmarks but without specific directions from Congress."

Congressional reporter Carl Hulse reported on November 16, 2010: "Republicans in the House and Senate are to vote this week on prohibiting earmarks, which have become a symbol of government excess and backroom dealing, although they account for a very small part of the overall budget."

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