Thursday, June 25, 2009

Innovations in Earmarking

U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, Democrat from Washington State, is taking a novel approach to plundering the U.S. Treasury, which might be called "do-it-yourself earmarking." It's a way of cutting out the middle man in the pork-barrel process -- your local member of Congress -- by letting Americans go directly to appropriators with their earmark wish-lists. Just file a funding request, hoist it up the flag pole and voilĂ : In a few short months it might just start raining money!

No need to hire an expensive lobbyist. No need for quid-pro-quo campaign contributions. It's Uncle Sam as ATM -- only you don't need a secret pin number to make a withdrawal. And the best part is, it gives members of Congress "plausible deniability" if embarrassing pork barrel projects make the papers. It's no longer their request; it's your request. Don't blame the messenger; all they were doing was passing it along to the right people.

This latest innovation in earmarking came to light a few days back, after The Seattle Times reported that McDermott was seeking a $250,000 federal earmark for the replacement of window sills at The Rainier Club, an exclusive private dinner club in Seattle. That's when the 11-termer conjured up the following defense. He really didn't think the funding request would go through, he told The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, but he made it anyway, because some folks in the district asked him to.

"Everybody in my district is entitled to make a request," he said. "I will let the (appropriations) committee with the responsibility make the decision." And whatever committee members decide on the matter is just fine with McDermott, apparently.

So there it is, folks. Everyone in McDermott's district is "entitled" to request an earmark. You are. So's your neighbor. So are the folks who run the supper club. It's a free-for all, in other words; he has no responsibility for screening the requests, or modifying them, or rejecting those (like this one) that are too trivial and parochial to justify the use of federal funds.

And he wants us to believe he trusts wiser minds on the appropriations committee to make such calls. "The congressman argued that his colleagues controlling the purse strings sort through requested earmarks, usually funding things deemed most important," reports the P-I.

A McDermott staffer scoffed at any suggestion that the Rainier Club earmark was a favor to fat cats. "People who know Jim well . . . would chuckle out loud if the implication is that he's in the pocket of business interests," he told the Times. But this misses the point. The problem isn't that McDermott is "in the pocket of business interests," but that he's in the pocket of taxpayers, at the behest of an elite private club that should pay for its own damn window repairs. The problem is that such outrages have become routine in the era of do-it-yourself earmarking.

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