It seems like a long time ago, but at this point two years ago, Republican congressional candidates were running on an anti-earmark platform. Illinois Republican Robert Schilling, for example, told voters two weeks before the 2010 midterms, "We need earmark reform that improves transparency, roots out corruption and eliminates wasteful spending.... My opponent never met an earmark he didn't like."
Once he got to Congress, Schilling discovered that these targeted expenditures weren't such a bad idea after all -- and he's not the only one.
To a certain degree, the House GOP followed through on its 2010 promise, and imposed an earmark moratorium upon taking office last year. It's been interesting to watch, however, as Republicans have grown increasingly agitated by their own idea.
Reuters reported about a month ago that frustrated GOP lawmakers are giving earmarks another look, and the practice they condemned until quite recently "could make a comeback." There were some provisions in the recently-passed short-term extension on highway spending that looked an awful lot like earmarks, too.
Slowly but surely, Republican support for earmarks -- or at least spending measures that look an awful lot like earmarks -- has gone from a whisper to a roar.
Hypocrisy alert: House Republican freshmen are begging their leaders to bring back a certain type of earmark so that they can help companies back home in an election year.
In a letter to Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, 65 House Republican freshmen -- or roughly three-quarters of the class -- asked that the House consider a miscellaneous tariff bill jam-packed with special provisions to suspend duties on various foreign goods, even though it runs counter to the earmark ban Republicans campaigned on in 2010 and instituted when they took power.
The push is a sign that freshmen who arrived in Washington talking up their anti-pork principles are now worried about what -- if anything -- they'll have to show constituents when they hit the campaign trail. And, in typical Washington fashion, they think they've found a loophole that will get them past the ban.
For the record, I don't much care about earmarks, and tend to think politicians make too much of this. For many, "earmark" is synonymous with "wasteful spending," and that's really not the case.
What I find more interesting about all of this is that so many politicians made anti-earmark rhetoric a staple of their campaigns without having their facts straight. It's also fascinating to see so many Tea Party types get to Congress vowing to reject "politics as usual" -- they had no use for the entrenched Washington establishment and its corrupt power structure -- only to think twice after being on Capitol Hill for a year or so.
When pressed, these Republicans can make perfectly compelling arguments in support of the projects they believe deserve earmarks. Many are perfectly persuasive. But maybe they should have thought of this before arguing that earmarks are a crooked and dishonest way of spending federal funds?