P&R has some thoughts on why a conservative could back earmarks:
There is no doubt that earmarks are abused. Limbaugh, on his program yesterday, said they are just a way Congressmen and Senators have of bribing each other with the taxpayer’s money. To be sure, this is true. It is also true that some people will not go along with what is right and true and holy unless they are bribed to do it. If we are to secure the votes of the unscrupulous, we must be prepared to use methods that will influence them – unscrupulous methods. I’ve recommended it before, but the musical 1776 is a classic portrayal of this. We must prioritize, and if building a bridge to nowhere is what it takes to get me judges that abide by the Constitution, I’ll build a hundred bridges to nowhere.
If someone only does what is right when bribed, then he/she will be very likely to do that which is wrong in all other instances. How about getting rid of the unscrupulous rather than plowing through our principles to placate them? Do we really wish to be of the same mind as President GW Bush when he said that he “abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system”?
While we are on the topic, it looks as though John Thune is in favor of having earmarking continue–whatever his reasons may be:
Thune is whipping votes for Mitch McConnell in order to defeat the Coburn-DeMint earmarks moratorium. There is no way Thune would so blatantly defy the grassroots of the GOP, the tea party movement, and virtually every major conservative group in Washington if he had any interest in being President in 2012.
One last thought on earmarks, for now. If we are able to successfully reduce government to the size that is essential to undergird our life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–we would have many fewer bureaucrats, projects, and programs which would be clamoring for earmark money. In short, when it comes to cutting earmarks under this present government size and structure, we are addressing the symptom–not the root malady.
UPDATE 5:55 PM
Was just reading a bit of Eric Erickson’s Red State Rising. The following ties right in with the above:
Yes, earmarks amount to a small percentage of the budget, and compared to the enormity of the entitlement crisis of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, they are minuscule. But as as Jeff Flake and Tom Coburn have said before, earmarks are the gateway drug to higher spending. If a politician thinks his reelection bid is in jeopardy because he won’t be able to deliver a bike path or high-speed rail project to his district, it is inconceivable to think that the same politician will sign up for allowing people to redirect their FICA taxes to personal accounts or slow the growth of Medicare. Earmarks erode the ability to say no to more government, and they corrupt often-good politicians with the enjoyment and power of directing other people’s money to those who come to them and ask.
Yes, earmarks afford lawmakers an avenue to keep some nameless bureaucrat from sending all the federal dollars somewhere else, but then why are you so set on federal dollars flowing to your district? If you believe in limited government, why do you want your district to get its “fair share”?
There’s more, and you can find it on pages 17-18 of the book. Eric’s final next to last statement in this section is perhaps the most telling: “Earmarks have become one of the chief vehicles for the Republican expansion of government.”
Update 7:22 PM
Supporting P&R’s original statement regarding bribing the unscrupulous, Milton Friedman weighs in in his defense (well, sort of):
I would add that the corollary to Friedman’s statement would seem to be that we need to make it politically unprofitable for the right (or wrong) elected officials to do the wrong thing. That is, we cannot forget sins of omission are just as important as sins of comission.
Update 7:33 PM
We’ll give Tom Coburn a bit of space to address earmarks–considering that he is more well-versed in the principles and practice of earmarks than I or just about anyone else who might read this. You need to read it all, but the short of it is that earmarks are not Constitutionally grounded policy and the practice of earmarking should cease.