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Absence of Earmarks Helps Budget Process

3:56 PM, Feb 26, 2011 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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The New York Times has an interesting story today on how budget negotiations have been affected by the lack of congressional earmarks:

[T]he impact of the decision by leaders of the House and the Senate to ban earmarks for at least the next two years is already being felt.

When House Republicans were searching for cuts to offer Senate Democrats as part of a temporary spending plan to avert a government shutdown, they were able to reach into accounts set aside for earmarks and find nearly $2.8 billion that would have previously gone to water projects, transit programs and construction programs. No earmarks, no need for that money, and the threat of an imminent shutdown was eased.

Lawmakers said the absence of earmarks also allowed for a more freewheeling debate on the House floor during consideration of the Republican plan to slash $61 billion from this year’s budget since Democrats and Republicans were not caught up in protecting the special provisions they had worked so hard to tuck into the spending bill.

“This is a completely new experience, and a good one,” said Representative Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who had lost scores of attempts on the House floor to strip earmarks from spending bills.

While spending on earmarks is a tiny portion of the budget, critics like Mr. Flake and Mr. Boehner said they played an insidious role in pushing up federal spending through what is known in legislative terms as logrolling.

This should be no surprise. Even some conservatives pretended earmarks were no big deal given that they represented a tiny fraction of overal federal spending. While critics of earmarks didn't like that they facilitated wasteful spending, the bigger problem all along was always how they corrupted the process. Now we're seeing the sausage being made with out them, it should be no surprise that a lack of earmarks makes for less antagonism in Congress and better legislation.

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