Republicans appear to have boxed themselves into a corner with their portrayal of earmarks as wasteful spending, as many of them have backed a moratorium on earmarks that threatens their power of direct spending. Politico reports that Rep. Michelle Bachmann wants to “redefine earmarks”:
Bachmann, for one, has major concerns about cutting off the flow of money to the Stillwater Bridge, which connects Minnesota to Wisconsin over the St. Croix River.
“The earmark issue touches transportation front and center, because how else do we fund these,” Bachmann said, “without ceding all the authority to the executive branch?”
But does Bachmann believe private entities shouldn’t get earmarks?
“I’m not going to comment on that,” she said. “What I’m commenting on is that we need to have a real, practical working definition of what do we mean by” earmarks.
Bachmann has said on Fox News that all pork is bad. “It’s all bad as far as I’m concerned. All this pork is bad. The old pork was bad, the new pork is bad,” she said. “What’s happened is that Republicans have sworn off earmarks. The President said when he came in that he would veto bills that had earmarks…now just the Democrats will be asking for earmark projects, pork projects if you will.”
Republicans are in conflict here. If they don’t earmark, the executive branch will decide where to appropriate funds that would have been the privilege of Congress otherwise. If they do earmark, then they are open to charges of hypocrisy, as many Republicans campaigned against earmarks as symbols of out-of-control spending. (Though abandoning earmarks could never, by a long shot, balance the budget.) There are ways around this, such as letter-marking or phone-marking, wherein members write letters or make calls to agencies to try to direct spending to causes in their district.
Rep. Bachmann is by no means the only Republican in conflict over earmarks — most lawmakers want money for their districts, but the tea party strongly opposes the practice of earmarking. (An earmark moratorium failed in the Senate.)