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Earmarks are an easy target, but take a closer look
It's popular to use earmarks as anti-Washington rhetoric, what with the "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska and other abuses, but a look at those included in the omnibus spending bill awaiting action now raises new questions for Nebraska.
Sen. Ben Nelson has drawn more than his share of criticism, but defends them as a way to make sure worthy projects are funded, and as a way for rural, less-populous areas to obtain government support that otherwise would go to big cities.
For their part, Nebraska's Republican delegation has used few or no earmarks -- Sen. Mike Johanns none, U.S. Rep. Lee Terry two for $1.5 million, U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith three for a total of $1.315 million and U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry with seven for $2.845 million, compared to Nelson's 53 for $62,249,440.
Besides being Nelson's hometown, McCook has a vital interest in the debate; his earmarks include $487,000 for the new McCook Community College Events Center.
But the list of colleges to benefit is extensive, chief among them the University of Nebraska, which stands to receive $40.666 million, far above that which will be received by universities in other midwestern states. All but about $900,000 of the money going to the University of Nebraska can be credited to Sen. Nelson.
As one knowledgeable observer noted, earmarks don't directly increase the appropriation, they only redirect parts of it to specific projects. Sen. Nelson noted that the difference between the omnibus spending bill which awaits action, and an earmark-free continuing resolution that would simply keep the government in operation is only 1.2 percent.
Earmarks are an easy target, yes, but what's the alternative? Appropriations should be made on merit, yes, but should that decision be left to nameless bureaucrats, or a system even more prone to under-the-table dealings?
One solution is massive cuts to federal spending, and that may be the only real solution.
But are we willing to pay the difference in local and state taxes or let worthy local projects and our institutions of higher education languish?
It's clear that something will have to be done to balance the national budget and even, eventually, pay down the national debt.
But until we have created an alternative to the current system and have generated the will to make the necessary changes, earmarks, or something like them, are unlikely to go away anytime soon.
More on earmarks is available on the website of the conservative think-tank, the Platte Institute.