Commentary: 'Earmark' isn't a dirty word in high-poverty states

Those dirty earmarks.

Republicans in the incoming Congress, under pressure from the tea party movement and voters of many political persuasions, have vowed to ban earmarks.

That sounds great.

But what if it’s phrased this way: They’re pledging to halt spending on state and local projects that keep thousands of Mississippians employed, and to ban spending such as the federal Katrina relief Mississippians received after the storm’s devastation. Elected GOP leaders want to turn over control of this $16 billion in discretionary money to the federal bureaucracy and a Democratic administration whose policies they despise.

Suddenly, that doesn’t sound so nifty, eh?

“Earmark” is a new term for an age-old practice that used to be called “pork.” And once upon a time, pork spending was out of hand, resulting in infamous boondoggles such as “bridges to nowhere,” mohair subsidies and $600 toilet seats.

But Congress has, in recent years, enacted reforms and public transparency on earmark spending. I know I’ll likely catch a lot of flak, but I’ll posit this: Most earmark spending these days is on worthy projects that create jobs and provide needed services, often in poor areas that can’t afford to foot the bill.

Like Mississippi. Like South Mississippi.

Yeah, I said it. And I consider myself to be as anti-wasteful government spending as the next guy. But I can also spot rhetoric and hyperbole about government spending.

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