Today’s op-ed piece by Jim Clyburn is one of those responses that make it hard to recognize the original piece to which they are "responding." In this case, a lot of that is a result of the personality and political style of the man whose name appears on the piece. I invite you to go read the original editorial.
Mr. Clyburn asserts that The State "doesn’t understand" earmarks, but doesn’t support that. In fact, it’s hard to square this assertion in his piece:
The State editors’ position on earmarking is based on erroneous
reporting, a lack of knowledge of the facts and a disregard for the
constitutional authority granted to Congress to have power over the
purse. I have always said and will reiterate here that my personal
agenda is to improve the quality of life for the residents of the 6th
… with this passage from ours:
Mr. Clyburn did not invent congressional earmarks — a point his critics
too often overlook. They are no doubt as old as our federal budgeting
process, and their largest growth spurt came while Republicans
controlled the House, the Senate and the presidency. In a perverse way,
the fact that he is the most successful earmarker in the S.C.
delegation speaks to his clout. And it’s hard to argue when he says he
is serving the best interests of his constituents by pumping federal money into a district that was drawn to include our state’s poorest areas.
Indeed, our editorial was less about Mr. Clyburn and his particular earmarks, and more about the fact that such a system exists.
To find our real area of disagreement, look to the headlines. The one on our editorial is "Clyburn earmarks a microcosm of broken system." The one on the op-ed is "Earmarks serve the public good." And once he gets past his inaccurate complaints about what we said, he gets to the core of the issue, which is that he believes the proper way to appropriate federal funds for infrastructure and the like is via the interested guidance of influential members of Congress, not "unqualified political appointees," which I suppose is the Democratic moral equivalent of the nonpolitical "bureaucrats" that Republicans gripe about. (If all else fails, Blame Bush.)
Finally, I must take issue with the assertion that “if programs that get funded through earmarks were strong enough to stand on their merits, there would be no need for the local congressman to stick a note in the budget demanding that they be funded.” Let’s take a recent Washington Post report that illustrates what happened last fiscal year when there was a moratorium on earmarks.
In the absence of congressional action, funds in the Transportation Department’s discretionary budget were allocated by unqualified political appointees at the department — with no background or experience in public transportation — who chose to spend nearly $1 billion of taxpayer money on toll road experiments in urban cities. All the money was spent on seven projects in five states, not including South Carolina.
No money returned to the national treasury. No investments in rural communities. No investments in mass transit. No equity or fairness. It was a case of the triumph of ideology over the public good. The year before, thanks to earmarks, the same pot of money was spent on 442 grants in 47 states, and this year it is being spent on 313 projects in 43 states — and South Carolina has benefited from these funds.
We disagree. Mr. Clyburn sets up a false choice — either the old way of doing things (disbursement by political influence, which benefits the district of a guy who now has loads of such influence), or wicked Bush Administration privatization schemes. (At least, that seems to be the case. I’m assuming here that the WashPost piece to which he refers is the March 17 one headlined "Letting the Market Drive Transportation; Bush Officials Criticized for Privatization." That seems to fit his description.)
The proper way to select priorities for spending transportation funds is to let the NONpolitical professionals — i.e., "bureaucrats" — choose the specific projects most needed across the nation, according to overall criteria established by the Congress. Or don’t spend the money at all.
South Carolina has had a century of trying it the Clyburn way — Mendel Rivers, for instance, was no slouch at throwing federal largesse in the Palmetto State’s direction — and we’re still poor, still lagging behind the rest of the nation. Mr. Clyburn believes his approach is different in that it directs the money to previously neglected areas and constituencies, and it is. But that doesn’t make his the best way for Congress to set federal spending priorities.