It's no secret that Bluestem is a big fan of the Lewis and Clark Rural Water Project for southwest Minnesota and nearby corners of Iowa and South Dakota. For years, I been posting approvingly of the earmarks that Walz, Minnesota's Senators and conservative Republicans like Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Steve King (R-IA) have requested.
The issue hit my radar back in February 2008 when the Bush administration didn't fund the project, and Congressman Walz stepped up with an earmark request. The concept of "earmark" gets demogogued because of "bridges to nowhere" but with proper oversight and restrictions, earmarks can make the federal appropriation process more responsive to genuine needs for public infrastructure.
The Lewis and Clark Rural Water Project is a good example of the way in which earmarks can be a good thing. Minnpost staff writer Derek Wallbank called Minnesota's list of earmarks "just plain boring."
Not that everybody approves of earmarks. A front group, the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, rabblerouses on earmarks. It whined:
While many earmark requests will ultimately be rejected by Congress, dozens will receive your tax dollars. In 2010, the Minnesota delegation boasted 102 earmarks that cost taxpayers more than $68 million, a figure that soars far higher after adding in joint earmarks with members from other states, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.
And the Allen Quist campaign was particularly snippy about Congressman Walz's unprecedented transparent, public process for earmark requests within the district.
And it looks like those who wanted a "Don't Tell, Don't Ask" policy on earmarks have gotten their way.
However boring and necessary potable water and Highway 14 improvements may be, there won't be any earmarks for them this year. Will Obama budget for these sorts of projects?
USA Today reports in Senate Democrat bans earmarks in spending bills that, like President Obama and House Republicans, the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee has decided to go with the rhetoric:
The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee said he will impose a ban on earmarks, joining President Obama and congressional Republicans in trying to eliminate funding for special projects requested by lawmakers.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, a Democrat who has requested millions of dollars in earmarks for his home state of Hawaii, announced the surprise move today.
Last week, Obama said he would veto any bill that comes to him containing the congressionally directed projects.
"The handwriting is clearly on the wall," Inouye said in a statement. "Given the reality before us, it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law."
Inouye said the Appropriations Committee, which allocates federal funding, will send back any earmark requests.
Obama's veto threat, made during the State of the Union Address on Jan. 25, was dismissed by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid as "pretty talk." The majority leader also complained it gave the president too much power.
Members of the congressional appropriations committees have long held the view that Congress holds the purse strings and should have a say in how federal funds are spent. House Republicans, following their election victories in November, have already accepted a moratorium on earmarks. . . .
With the bans in place, local leaders cannot tell Walz what they'd like to see included in appropriation bills--nor can the public review the requests, via the process created last year--and Walz can't ask. Think of it as a "Don't Tell, Don't Ask" policy.
Thus, while I fully approve of funding the Lewis & Clark Project, I was surprised to find that Joe Schomacker, newly-minted Minnesota Representative from Luverne, is chief author of a bill telling the state's congressional delegation to fund the project.
H.F. 184 requires Secretary of State Ritchie to:
prepare copies of this memorial and transmit them to the President of the United States,
the President and the Secretary of the United States Senate, the Speaker and the Clerk of the United States House of Representatives, the chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, the chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, and Minnesota's Senators and Representatives in Congress.
Walz and the others, however, can't ask for an earmark. Lovely. Will voters ask political consultant Schomacker why his party supports banning earmarks, rather than reforming the process so their voices can be honored in Washington? Or will this just be the funding process that dare not speak its name?
Update: Schomacker published a letter in the Worthington Globe yesterday, lamenting that the project has been labeled an earmark, though not explaining the history of the Bush Administration zeroing out the project, nor the impact of the Republican-led earmark ban. Nice touches from a guy who was once the First Congressional Republican field organizer. Silence is loud.