Another failure to communicate

Mitch McConnell has something in common with Barack Obama. Actually, two things: First, he now agrees with the president that we need to do away with earmarks. (Oh, you didn’t know that? Yes. That’s something Jim DeMint and Barack Obama agree on. This isn’t a debate between Democrats and Republicans. It’s a debate between entrenched legislative leaders of both parties, and just about everybody else.)

But he also believes that this is more of a communication problem than a question of there being anything wrong with the practice.

Oh, he says he’s been listening to the people, and I suppose that’s true as far as it goes:

I have thought about these things long and hard over the past few weeks. I’ve talked with my members. I’ve listened to them. Above all, I have listened to my constituents.  And what I’ve concluded is that on the issue of congressional earmarks, as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example. Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.

But this is the thing that jumped out at me when I heard it on the radio this morning (the bold-faced emphasis is mine):

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.

Did you get that? Essentially, the way he sees it is, the problem is that YOU, the people, don’t understand how wonderful earmarks (at least, HIS earmarks) are, even though HE knows better, and has always known better, which is why he’s not going to apologize. But against his vastly superior judgment, he’s going to have to act on this purely SYMBOLIC concern that YOU, the uninformed people, have, or else he’s going to lose the ability to do all the wonderful things that only he and his brethren can possibly provide to you, the people.

Got that? I certainly did.

14 thoughts on “Another failure to communicate

  1. bud

    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.

    Note the “every Republican” part of this. What a ridiculous and insulting diatribe. This from the party that has wasted literally trillions of dollars in military related endevours that have cost lives and treasure on a scale not seen since Vietnam. (Treasure-wise maybe even more than Vietnam).

    Look, if the Republicans want to have an honest debate about spending they absolutely have to discuss the military. It’s just too big to ignore and it’s clearly not necessary to spend the amounts we’re spending on these gold-plated weapons systems. But no. We have Mitch insulting all non-Republicans over something as petty as earmarks.

    But worse, far worse, we have Lindsey Graham beating the drums for war against Iran during a recent visit to Canada. Can you believe this guy? What a radical moron. (Ok, he is smart and not a genuine moron but definitely dangerous) And he’s considered the moderate senator from South Carolina.

    Spending does need to be cut. Just not right now. In about 6 months once it’s clear that the Obama recovery has started to improve the job situation then we can talk about spending. But don’t leave off the important military sector, the biggest, most wasteful part of the federal budget. Otherwise we’ll continue adding to the national debt, even during times of economic growth.

  2. Phillip

    What McConnell REALLY meant to say in that last sentence was: “If we make a big show to the American people on the small and symbolic things, we can get away with our continued hypocrisy and thus NOT really cut spending or rein in government.”

    For earmarks truly are a drop in the bucket, especially compared to the bloated defense budget, which is however a sacred cow to both parties, a few courageous souls notwithstanding.

    Speaking of which, have you done your federal budget-balancing yet, Brad? I’d be curious to see how some of our regulars here would approach it. It’s kind of fun: here’s the link for those who are interested…

  3. David in Chapel Hill

    Who do you mean, “YOU, the People”? Have you any evidence that the American people in general give a tinker’s damn about this issue? First, sneer all you want, but the earmark issue really is “purely symbolic”; earmarks are a tiny portion of the budget, and have far less to do with how much money is being spent than in who gets to decide how it’s spent. This issue is kabuki theatre, purely and simply. Second, in my observation, insofar as “YOU, the people,” do care about earmarks, it’s to complain because “your” congressperson isn’t bringing home the bacon. I think that “YOU, the people” here means nothing other than “YOU, Brad Warthen.”

  4. Norm Ivey

    I think I understand earmarks, and I don’t think much of the earmark argument. Earmarks represented about .5% of the US budget for FY 2009, and eliminating them doesn’t necessarily eliminate the spending–it depends on whether the earmark is an add-on or a carve-out. South Carolina received $126 million in earmarks, many of them benefiting the military, roads (including Harden Street), energy research, and more (123 altogether). Graham and a few of the Representatives have secured a number of earmarks for our state; DeMint and Wilson have not. I don’t know how many jobs are created by $126 million, but I am glad the money is here.

    Congress can tilt at the windmills of earmarks all they want. If they are serious about reducing the deficit, they’ve got to go where the money is being spent–defense, Social Security, Medicare, the wars. If you are unwilling to significantly decrease spending, you have to increase revenue (raise taxes or stimulate the economy). I doubt there are many left in Washington that have the stomach for the tough decisions.

    While I am frothing at the mouth about this–I find it unconscionable that we keep saying we are running up a debt our children will have to pay. When our parents and grandparents were faced with a debt that was larger when compared to our GDP than today’s debt is, they paid it off in about 15 years. Why do we think we get to put it off? It’s our debt. We should pay it.

  5. Brad

    David from up north… you misunderstand me. I don’t sit up nights worrying about earmarks. I really do see them as a small thing.

    I DO see them by and large as a bad thing, although not always.

    The problem is that they are not a good way to set national spending priorities. The McConnells of the world maintain that they need earmarks because otherwise, “unelected bureaucrats” will decide where money goes. Me, I’m for the “unelected bureaucrats,” only I would call them “professionals who can be objective, and have no motive to stack the deck in favor of projects that their constituencies want, because they have no constituencies.”

    In other words, I believe in deciding which specific projects to spend money on on the basis of objective criteria, not who has the most pull in Congress. The guys with pull disagree.

    It IS a largely symbolic issue. But in a representative democracy, symbolism matters. In this case, it doesn’t matter as much as either DeMint or McConnell thinks it does, but it does matter some. A small thing, yes, but even with small things, one should go about them the right way.

  6. Karen McLeod

    Earmarks won’t change the deficit one bit. We have to decide to change it, starting with the willingness to forgo the tax cuts, across the board. Military spending has to be on the table as does Social Security and Medicare (we’ve already cut Medicaid so much it’s more like ‘bandaid.’ If our elected leaders want to do something symbolic, why don’t they agree to forgo their medical care plans, and use the same insurance we all use (and pay for it like we do?)

  7. Nick Nielsen

    @Phillip, I like your link.

    I managed to get $614 billion surplus in 2015, and over $2,200 surplus in 2030, 62% of it in spending cuts. It wasn’t pretty.

  8. Steve Gordy

    The GOP is just trying to give the voters an early Christmas gift. ‘Cept we won’t be able to open the box until next year, at which time we’ll see that it’s mostly empty air.

  9. Kathryn "Blue" Fenner

    @ Phillip– Tom Friedman says it well in today’s paper–the Republicans had plenty of time to cut spending and taxes under Bush, and either didn’t do it, in the case of spending, quite the opposite, or did, in the case of taxes, and it didn’t work out the way they said it would (the Recession was well underway under Bush’s administration).

  10. bud

    Phillip, I was able to balance the budget. 71% came from tax increases and 29% (mostly military spending) were from spending cuts. I aggressively soaked the rich. The estate tax in particular was a great source of revenue and had no effect on any estate smaller than $1 million.

    (I intentionally do not use defense spending when it comes to the military. Most of our military budget is not essential for actually defending the country from legitimate threats from abroad).

  11. Phillip

    Well, Kathryn, for the GOP the real sacred cows are defense spending and preserving the goals-in-tandem of increasing income inequality and reducing class mobility (via protecting inherited wealth across generations). So for Tea Partiers of the working middle class, the establishment GOP distracts attention with talk of cutting earmarks, or federal funding for the Arts, or some ridiculous trivial but symbolic thing to hide the protection of the wealthy and near-wealthy, and drum up fear to hide the fact that we vastly overspend on defense relative to our real, actual needs.

    @Nick: I balanced the budget for both 2015 and 2030 with 63-37 tax vs. savings split, but almost all taxation aimed at highest income brackets, returning cap-gains and estate taxes to Clinton-era levels. Most spending cuts were military. No increase in age eligibility for SocSec or Medicare. (This is eliminating the debt as a President Kucinich might do it, I guess). Interesting, too, in the NYT’s options list to see how cap-gains and estate tax proposals show Obama to be more centrist than Clinton, whereas the propaganda of the radical right tries to portray it as exactly the opposite.

  12. Doug Ross


    What is the statute of limitations on how many years pass before the “well they did it first” excuse is retired?

    Republicans blamed Clinton for pretty much all of Bush’s tenure. Now we get the same cop out from the Democrats.

    If it’s the right thing to do now, do it. Don’t say “we won’t do it because they didn’t do it when they had the chance”.

  13. Karen McLeod

    and no one is willing to let the Bush tax cuts die, even though they are one reason that the US is in so much debt…


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