We've run a lot of articles here about earmarks -- those specific funding bills stuck willy-nilly into legislation by Congressmen, often at the last minute, usually bringing money to their own districts -- mostly because Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, has made opposing them such a large part of his oeuvre.
Just plug the word "earmark" into the search box at the upper left of this web page and you'll see all we've written: about Ryan voting against a ban on waterboarding in part because the bill contained earmarks; about his Boondoggle awards pointing out the year's worst of 'em; about how much money other Wisconsin Congressmen bring their districts while ours stakes out the moral high ground and doesn't even try; and so on. Just this week, we wrote about the Feingold/Ryan Bipartisan Line Item Veto Bill, yet another attack on earmarks. (The Omnibus Spending Bill approved by Congress in December had more than 9,000 earmarks.)
Just this Saturday, when the Americans For Prosperity gave Ryan their "Defender of the American Dream" Award, he hammered earmarks again.
So it's not a new subject. But now Sen. Herb Kohl has weighed in -- on the side of earmarks! Smackdown!!
Kohl very neatly put the issue of earmarks into perspective (in his response to Bush's FY2009 budget.). Here's what he had to say:
As the budget debate goes forward, we fully expect robust discussion of Congressional earmarks. This debate, in our view, can be healthy insofar as it prompts more scrutiny to ensure that earmarks serve legitimate public purposes.I caught up with Rep. Ryan on Monday afternoon when he visited the 21st Century Preparatory School, to talk to 7th and 8th graders, and gave him a copy of Sen. Kohl's statement. Ryan came out of his corner swinging (or whatever it is they do in wrestling):
But with all the conflicting information this topic generates, we believe it's also important to keep earmarks in fiscal perspective. For fiscal year 2008, earmarks comprised 1.7 percent of discretionary spending. As a percentage of total government spending (including entitlements and other mandatory programs) earmarks constituted 0.6 percent of all anticipated federal spending.
Though modest in their overall share of the federal budget, earmarks can serve as a legitimate response to state and local needs which might otherwise be ignored by the Federal government. Continued vigilance is essential to ensure that legitimate public interests are being served through earmarks. That will continue to be our central objective when advocating Wisconsin projects in the coming fiscal year.
The months ahead will be punctuated by fierce competition for limited federal resources.
"The system is broken. I'm fighting a culture of spending that has overtaken Washington. They're earmarking things that Congress has no business spending.
"It's a cesspool of earmarks. Of every ten of them, maybe seven make sense, but three are tainted with corruption. I want to create new, clean rules."
I asked Ryan about the fact that other districts are receiving funds, but his 1st District is not -- unless one of our Senators manages to get funding directed our way. It's a question he's heard before: "It bothers me that everyone plays the game this way. I'm pledged to fight this corrupt practice, the uglier it is. I'm going to fight, rather than go along."
As for Herb Kohl, he said: "Herb is an honorable man, but this is a disservice I'm going to fight."
(Disclaimer: The real Paul Ryan had nothing to do with the amazingly lifelike -- in your dreams! -- illustration above.)