Friday, September 01, 2006

Hyman Fails to Hold Republicans Accountable

Mark Hyman likes to complain about Congressional waste, as he does in his most recent editorial about “secret earmarks.” The problem is, despite talk about “responsibility” and “accountability,” he doesn’t put the blame where it needs to go.

Often, when noting Congress’s spendthrift habits, Hyman will say something along the lines of “and Republicans haven’t been any better than Democrats when it comes to controlling spending,” subtly reinforcing the right wing talking point that liberals are ideologically more likely to be for wasteful government spending than conservatives, and that it’s surprising the G.O.P. is “just as bad” as the Democrats.

The problem is that the facts run counter to this. Republicans aren’t “just as bad” as Democrats. They’re far worse.

At the risk of being a bit too cutesy and glib for the taste of most readers, this is the short, simple riposte to Hyman:

Here’s your Congress: 1994
--$23.2 billion in earmarks for 4,126 projects.

Here’s your Congress on Republicans: 2005—$
47.4 billion in earmarks for 15,877 projects.

Any questions?

The one cautionary note I would add is that it’s often easy to slam such spending on general principle, ignoring what the money actually goes for. We can agree that secret earmarks are a shady way of pushing funding through Congress, but often the projects the money goes for are actually worthwhile causes (as opposed to, say, bridges to nowhere).

For example (and in the interest of full disclosure), the college where I currently teach has a fantastic nursing program, one of the best in the state. It’s receiving $200,000 in earmarked federal grants to help fund a multi-state study of ways of retaining nurses in the workforce by measuring what factors lead to nurses leaving their place of employment or dropping out of the profession altogether.

Is that shamefully wasteful spending? As someone who has seen the work that experienced nurses do firsthand, I don’t think so myself, but I’ll leave it for you to decide.

In fact, you can go to
an interactive map to see what organizations in your area are receiving federal earmarked money and what it’s going for. You’ll probably find some examples that seem a bit suspicious, but you’ll also see that a lot of the recipients of the money are organizations that are doing good work that actually helps people. To suggest that this money is wasted but that tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent of Americans is sound fiscal policy is a tough position to defend.

Not that the process of earmarking itself is a desirable way to run a government. But often, these attacks on the process are actually attacks on the very idea that government funds should be invested in services at all. When we object to the freewheeling spending of the Republicans in Congress (and we should), we shouldn’t get sucked into the position of saying investing in worthwhile projects is something do be done away with.

What we want is smarter investment of the public’s money in ways that will benefit Americans, not simply the donors who fill Congressional coffers.

There’s a simple first step to accomplish this: vote for a Democratic Congress in November.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.98


At 12:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Interesting post. Along these lines, it could be argued that earmarks are a clear manifestation that even Republicans don't fully swallow their nasty pill of getting rid of government-funded social programs. They talk the tough talk about retuning money to you, the taxpayer and can't actually state that a role of government is to provide social support and well-being.

But then there's the data: all those earmarks. So they talk about you keeping you're hard-earned money, while re-routing it to stupid and dangerous things (dumb wars, for example) and then secretly admitting that the public doesn't like their not-so-benign-neglect of the home scene.

Pretty sneaky: preserve the rhetoric.

I look back at the Bush years and can recall very little that he's done domestically, aside from aiding and abetting huge amounts of waste (remember the 7-9 BILLION simply "lost" in Iraq?), which typically ends up in his pals' pockets.

Bush's neglect of America is not neglect, but rather wilfull dismantling of social support structures.

So the Republicans have come up with their sneaky way around that.

Pretty hypocritical on several levels.

At 2:28 PM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

Yes, it's like one of Al Franken's favorite lines: The Republicans talk about how wasteful, inefficient, and bad government is, then they prove it with the way they govern.

As for letting people keep their money, of course that's boloney on a number of different levels. Primarily, it means allowing the rich to not pitch in to the extent their affluence (a direct result of living in a democratic society) suggests they should.

The best specific example of this is the changes at the IRS, where agents devoted to reviewing and auditing tax returns from the wealthiest Americans have been reduced, while audits of lower income Americans have gone up (this, despite the fact that on a strict dollar-recovered-per-hour-worked basis, those auditing high income tax returns bring in much more money).

See a NYT piece on this here:

At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's no surprise that the Republicans have ditched their "we are the party of family values" and "traditional Christian values" marketing lines.

those are hard-sells when BushCo and Republicans are busy at work worsening the rich-poor disparity, sanctioning torture, ignoring good stewardship of the earth (global warming? Nah!), etc. etc.

I wish that some smart Democratic leaders would get up and point out what a huge lie the Republicans have foisted and that, if one is concerned about values such as community, health, a functioning society, etc., that the Dems are much closer to the mark than the "violence-first" Republican party.


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