An Earmark Solution to Nowhere

It’s time to nip something right in the bud. Michelle Bachmann and others have been complaining about how the House earmark is too restrictive because it will not allow for Members to get federal funding for their roads and bridges. She wants them exempted from the moratorium.

Bachmann says Congress should exempt “roads, bridges and interchanges” and recommends that if a town, city, county or state approves a project, a lawmaker in Washington should be able to submit a request — a practice she says she has followed. Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) says Congress should earn back the public’s trust before considering a new definition but concedes the earmark ban will bring about “unintended consequences.”

Bachmann is essentially calling for an earmark moratorium that still allows for the infamous Bridge to Nowhere and exempts all earmarks in the highway bill. That would completely vitiate the House earmark ban, and all talk of it needs to be dropped immediately. What to do about federal highway spending? In the absence of highway earmarks, the funds still flow to the state transportation departments by formula to be distributed by them. Without earmarks, States are not getting less money, but Congress is rightfully giving up the corrupting power to spend that money wherever they like. But the real solution, and it doesn’t have to be on the long-term horizon if conservatives put their mind to it, is to have the federal government get out of the highway business and devolve it back to the States on federalism principles. That would give the people who know the infrastructure needs of a State the most the opportunity to address those needs, and it would fix the current inequity whereby some States get more for their fair share of highway gas tax revenues. Each State would get what they collected. If House Republicans exempt highway spending from their ban, then they were never serious about it in the first place, and it will be further proof that they just don’t get it. Michelle Bachmann of all people needs to have a better grasp of that, because the last thing we need is for her colleagues to think that the tea party doesn’t care about actually cutting spending both big and small.