Whew! McConnell owes Democrats a favor

After Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., oh-so-reluctantly gave in to Tea Party demands to swear off on the earmarks he so dearly loves, the Senate Democrats came to his rescue today:

Senate shuns push for elimination of pet projects


The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 30, 2010; 11:41 AM

WASHINGTON — The Senate Tuesday rejected a GOP bid to ban the practice of larding spending bills with earmarks – those pet projects that lawmakers love to send home to their states.
Most Democrats and a handful of Republicans combined to defeat the effort, which would have effectively forbidden the Senate from considering legislation containing earmarks like road and bridge projects, community development funding, grants to local police departments and special-interest tax breaks.
The 39-56 tally, however, was a better showing for earmark opponents, who lost a 29-68 vote earlier this year. Any votes next year should be closer because a band of anti-earmark Republicans is joining the Senate…

He owes them one. But will he repay? Is there honor among earmarkers?

22 thoughts on “Whew! McConnell owes Democrats a favor

  1. Karen McLeod

    as bad as earmarks sound, they’re currently about the only way a congressperson can get projects done for his home state, and quite often they are things that need done (sometimes they’re fluff). Until they come up with an alternate method of method of helping individual states get the help they need to accomplish those things I suspect that everyone will sorely miss earmarks when they are gone.

  2. Nick Nielsen

    The problem is that earmarks are, as Karen said, about the only way to get projects done.

    I’ve got to wonder, though, when did we start expecting Uncle to do that kind of thing for us?

  3. Brad

    Well now, that’s the thing, you see — Uncle is NOT supposed to do all those things for us. First, not all of these things are proper government functions. Then, under the notion of subsidiarity to which I subscribe (it has its roots in Catholic social teaching), governmental functions should be carried out by the smallest, most local level that is competent of carrying them out, with the larger, most central level only undertaking the things that only it CAN undertake.

    But that seems to be too technical for a lot of people. Such as members of Congress.

    That is why it’s good that Jim DeMint struggles against the practice. I don’t see many indications that he does it for the right reasons — he seems wedded to a vague notion that government is “too big,” and he has some ideal SIZE in mind, as though such an arbitrary thing could actually be reliably determined — but earmarks are a good thing to be opposed to, generally speaking.

  4. Doug Ross

    Could someone please point me to the section in the Constitution that covers grants to local police departments?

    We have a federal deficit because we have a bunch of politicians who love to spend other people’s money so they can keep their perk-filled jobs.

  5. bud

    Not sure why this have become such a Dem vs GOP issue. Strom Thurmond and Floyd Spence were the masters of securing goodies for the home state. And they bragged about it. That’s one reason they kept getting re-elected – by claiming seniority and the ability to bring home the bacon (pork really).

    Yet now it’s the junior senator from SC is the one making a fuss about this even to the extent of threatening the Charleston harbor dredging project. Politics is a fascinating game to watch.

  6. Karen McLeod

    Brad, that’s just it; many of these projects are too large for the state to manage, but need to be done, eg. Charleston harbor. I agree that the “earmarks” process is a lousy way to go about it, but currently it’s the only one we have. I could suggest that it be replaced with another means, one that reviews these projects for scope and true need, but until we get another means a lot of states will stagnate from lack of funds to complete projects that ultimately affect the whole nation.

  7. bud

    …governmental functions should be carried out by the smallest, most local level that is competent of carrying them out, with the larger, most central level only undertaking the things that only it CAN undertake.

    That’s at the heart of libertarian thinking. The most local level of “government” is the individual. Shouldn’t those “governmental” functions that can be undertaken by indivuals be left to individuals? Abortion is the prime example of that. Or regulation of video poker.

  8. Brad

    You’re misunderstanding subsidiarity. While it’s possible for it to co-exist with certain elements of libertarianism, it’s not the same thing at all.

    To give but one reason why, subsidiarity is essential to Catholic Social Teaching, while libertarianism is not. In fact, in some respects, it’s inimical. But I can see how you might be confused by Pope Pius XI’s statement that “It is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and/or industry.” But it seems to me that you have to look at that statement out of context to confuse it with libertarianism.

    I’m glad we can agree on a particular point, but don’t mistake that agreement for something it isn’t.

  9. Kathryn Fenner

    @ Doug Ross–as you know, there is no general authorization for the federal government to spend for general health and safety (except in the District of Columbia). However, since unsafe cities are a burden on interstate commerce, and even Republicans, especially Republicans, don’t want to burden commerce, and the federal government has very wide latitude in what it can do to enhance interstate commerce….

    so, short answer: the commerce clause.

  10. bud

    Seems like Pope Pius had it about right. Individuals should accomplish things by their own enterprise and/or industry. What’s confusing about that? Seems perfectly consistent with libertarian thinking to me.

  11. Doug Ross


    i.e. Legal mumbo jumbo to authorize taking more money in and redistributing it.

    As YOU know, the money goes for a whole lot more than protecting unsafe cities. And define “unsafe” please… at what level of “unsafe-ness” does it become a federal issue?

  12. Brad

    Cities are not the federal gummint’s bidness.

    The other day my wife and I were listening to a tape in the car of interviews about the civil rights movement, and one of the speakers said something about how the U.S. lacked “a comprehensive national urban policy.” And my wife and I had the same thought at the same moment: Why on Earth would we have such a thing as a NATIONAL urban policy?

    Now, on the other hand… the Charleston port project is something that could legitimately fall under the rubric of federal concerns. Major port, of strategic and economic importance to the nation, needs to be kept operational… I still haven’t entirely made up my mind about that, but the fact is that it is not per se an argument in favor of earmarks — because if something IS a legitimate federal concern, then we should be able to get it on a priority list that is properly constituted and has nothing to do with some individual lawmaker’s personal agenda.

  13. Mark Stewart

    It comes down to common sense.

    Fund a harbor deepening study as an investment in the state’s future vs. construct a bridge from Lone Star to Rimini.

    These are most often not hard calls.

    Unfortunately, when I look at the list of earmarked projects, most of them look like an appropriate use of funds – though probably not as earmarked funds. While all projects are supported by some group or another, most do have merit. While it would be better if Congress would keep the pet projects to a bare minimum; the fact remains that politics will never be a clean science. The ability to get projects funded within less than a decade is not something to just toss out, regardless of whether it is sometimes abused.

  14. Kathryn Fenner

    It’s not legal mumbo-jumbo any more than a software manual is purposefully designed to baffle users.
    @ Doug Ross–There are good reasons why the interstate commerce clause is used (that how they integrated the Jim Crow South, for one)–not all of them, but since we believe in precedent built on interpretations of the Constitution, it’s what we have. You just don’t know the whole story, so it sounds like mumbo-jumbo to you…just like a lot of the technical writing I encounter seems intentionally opaque!

  15. Doug Ross


    You said the spending by the federal government was valid due to the burden on interstate commerce by unsafe cities.

    In order to believe that premise, you would have to be able to define “unsafe”, define “city”, and define “burden”. And then reject any spending that did not meet all three definitions.

    Also, there isn’t any worse piece of documentation in the entire world that compares to the federal tax code. Imagine having to spend years and years in school and pass an extensive exam in order to sorta-almost-fully understand how much an individual needs to pay in taxes each year.

    The U.S. tax code is an economy killer and a productivity killer. It’s legalized insanity.


    The issue isn’t whether the projects are valid. The issue is whether they are valid in the context of being funded by FEDERAL tax dollars.

    And I hope you won’t expect me to go off and find the list of all the suspect pork projects. Every dollar spent on them and every moment of legislative activity expended on them is a waste of time and money.

  16. Mark Stewart

    Doug, I totally disagree. This state would totally flounder without federal largesse. If we lived in NY, I might agree with you. But since we are here, I’ll take the cash!

  17. Kathryn Fenner

    @ Doug– When I was trying to learn C++ using Deitel and Deitel, I used to moan that I could understand the tax code, but that an entry level programming book didn’t parse. Professor Fenner had to agree that it was clear only if you already knew what they were talking about.

    I don’t have to define anything. What happens is that if there were a constitutional challenge, the lawyers for both sides would argue whether or not the federal government had the power, and assuming I am correct that the basis was unsafe cities are a burden on interstate commerce–you’d have to look at the enabling legislation which will recite why the feds can do it–which only has to meet the “rational basis” standard (sort of a giggle test),the briefs would argue, based on past cases, which standard applied–was it more like A or B, and a judge would decide who was right, on up to the Supremes (who would not very likely hear a case that seems to be fairly settled).

    @ Mark and Doug–The bridge from Lone Star to Rimini, which I do not support, btw, nonetheless has some basis in reality–it is amazingly difficult to get around in those areas otherwise. We have done a great job of preserving our natural areas as long as they were settled by poor black people and not desired by rich white people (like, say, Hilton Head, etc.).

  18. Doug Ross


    Okay, so you are resigned to the fact that South Carolina must remain a welfare state dependent on the Federal government to keep it at its “high” level.

    I’m not. The culture of dependence on the government runs wide and deep here. Maybe that’s why we have the problems we have.

  19. Kathryn Fenner

    But, but,but, Burl–isn’t it the Eisenhower Interstate System, and wasn’t it designed for national defense? I mean, how can that be [gasp] socialism? [Clutches flag pin] I mean, market forces run military spending, right?

  20. Brad

    Well, in the grand scheme, they do. Markets operate on a sort of Darwinism that is certainly true of the military competition among nations as well. If the nation isn’t strong enough to survive and thrive, it won’t pass on its genes, or memes, or whatever…

  21. Brad

    Oh, and Burl is saying nasty things about the Interstate system because, from the perspective of one living in Hawaii, it is sort of a wasteful boondoggle.

    Ike wanted the Interstate system to make it easy to move troops and materiel around when the godless commies came a-knockin’. Hawaii has Pearl Harbor for that…


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