Earmarks aren't the devil after all

Legislators in a conservative House Republican's district want him to start bringing money home again


Alex Koppelman
June 16, 2009 10:45PM (UTC)

Almost everyone in Washington these days, from President Obama on down, talks a big game about opposing earmarks, little bits of federal spending tacked on to bills by various members of Congress. Altogether, the money expended through earmarks is basically a pittance compared to overall spending -- the omnibus spending bill passed in March totaled $410 billion, with only $8 billion of that coming through earmarks -- but it makes for a convenient target for politicians, especially because there is some abuse.

But earmarks do serve a purpose, even if they're just the garden-variety pork legislators have traditionally brought home to their district. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who chairs the House Republican Conference, a conservative group within the larger contingent of House Republicans, has been finding that out lately.

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For most of this decade, according to a resolution passed Monday night by a county board of commissioners in Pence's district, the congressman "championed" earmarks for his constituents. But he's since taken a blanket no-earmark stance. The board, which represents the biggest city in Pence's district, and is made up of three Democrats, wants him to reconsider and start bringing home the bacon again. "Pence's boycott of the legislative process is disadvantaging the communities and people of east-central Indiana," the commissioners said.

The resolution is non-binding and symbolic; it's really just a political move. But it might put some presure on Pence, and it's a reminder that there's a reason earmarks exist in the first place.


Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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