Ah: The Republicans Banned Earmarks!

How Budget Battles Go Without the Earmarks – NYTimes.com.

This good news. But it’s badly reported good news. Misrepresentative, and more importantly, it’s not a good explanation of what happened, which is the basic purpose of news reporting.

Here’s the letter I wrote to the reporter:

Re: “The wall finally tumbled down this year when Mr. Boehner, installed as the new speaker, pushed a ban in the House and had the clout to make it stick.”

Dear Mr. Hulse:

You know the inside game of the legislature far better than I do, but it seems to me that this article is incredibly misrepresentative.

I remember the Democrats banning earmarks in the house when they had unilateral control of house, senate, and presidency, in March 2010:


(WaPo just cause it came up first in Google.) As a fully avowed liberal who also believes in political and economic efficiency, I was ecstatic.

True, there was no Senate ban so earmarks could still happen in committee (‘zat right?), but it threw significant sand in the gears, no? And it set us up for what happened since.

And we gotta remember, the Pubs had unilateral control for six years, but never even pretended to do anything about earmarks (except rant).

So the narrative as I perceive it:

After decades of bipartisan earmark profligacy and corruption, when Robert Byrd retired and *within a month* of John Murtha’s death, the responsible party in American politics instituted a ban on earmarks in the house.

This made the Pubs’ hypocrisy utterly apparent, and they were forced to join the responsible party in being responsible.

So yes: Boehner deserves endless kudos for his personal stand on earmarks — quixotic as it might have been for all these years.

But when you give credit for that whole narrative to the endlessly irresponsible Republican party — or even suggest that the motive force was bilateral — when the facts on the ground suggest exactly the opposite, I think you’re misrepresenting what happened.

Thanks for listening,








2 responses to “Ah: The Republicans Banned Earmarks!”

  1. ramster Avatar

    Earmarks smell bad, but I do have two concerns about banning them. One, their cost is tiny in terms of the federal budget, so the only good reason to ban them is that they feel unethical. Two, they are a horse-trading mechanism that can help get an important bill passed.

  2. Asymptosis Avatar

    I don’t think they’re a necessary currency, and I do think they’re a corrosive currency, with political and economic effects far exceeding their trivial size as part of the budget.

    Even if they don’t breed outright corruption (which they do in some cases), they create of set of game rules in the legislature that are not conducive to good policy making. Think: John Murtha.

    They are plenty of policy issues to horse-trade over, without adding the pernicious individual-incentive effects of earmarks to the mix.